A clear-cut result is not expected, even though on the basis of recent polls it looks as if Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog is more than likely to form the next government.
This is not so much because there is a Jewish majority that wants a center-left government, but because there isn’t a Jewish majority that wants a predominantly right-wing government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, and according to polls, there isn’t a majority in the country that wants a national unity government including both the Zionist Union and the Likud (53 percent of Jewish voters do not want such a government – 66% of right-wing voters and 56% of Left-wing voters. Supporters of the Center are more partial to such a government).
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One of the reasons Herzog’s prospects of forming a government are better than Netanyahu’s is that the Joint Arab List (or parts thereof, should the list split up after the elections, as it might well do) is likely to agree to sign an agreement with Herzog, similar to that signed by the Labor Party and the Arab parliamentary group following the 1992 election. That agreement ensured Arab support for the government on important issues in return for improvements in employment opportunities open to Israel’s Arab citizens, and a reduction in the discrimination in budget allocations to the Arab sector (especially in the sphere of child benefits and development budgets), and all this without the Arab parties joining the coalition.
The ideal government Herzog hopes to be able to form would exclude the Likud (which will have to transform itself toward a post-Netanyahu era, and decide whether it wants to be a right-wing liberal party, like the old Likud was, or position itself on the extreme, anti-democratic and racist side of the political spectrum), as well as Bayit Yehudi and Yahad, which together constitute the extreme Right in Israel today.
Yisrael Beytenu could be part of the coalition (if it passes the qualifying threshold) if party leader Avigdor Liberman stops refusing to sit in a government with Meretz. After all, they both favor the two-state solution, and what separates them on this issue is primarily Liberman’s extreme anti-Arab sentiment, which he has done nothing to hide in the course of the current campaign.
The Arabs would remain outside the coalition, because if the Joint List (or some part of it) were to join, in the current situation Herzog would be unable to muster a sufficient majority, and they would probably gain more at a lower price to their own positions by reaching an agreement to support the government from the outside.
The ideal government Netanyahu hopes to be able to form would exclude the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Meretz and the Joint List. However, based on all the recent polls, without Moshe Kahlon’s Koolanu Party Netanyahu won’t have the necessary majority, and there are clear indications that even though Kahlon himself, as well as many candidates on his list, may be categorized as moderate Likudniks (of the brand that no longer exists in the Likud itself), he has many more reasons to join a government led by Herzog.
Firstly, polls show that the majority of those who say they will vote for Koolanu (like the majority who say they will vote for Yesh Atid) prefer a government led by Herzog to one led by Netanyahu. Secondly, Kahlon hasn’t exchanged a word with Netanyahu for over a year and a half, but has had several tête-à-têtes with Herzog. Thirdly, he is much more likely to receive the Finance Ministry and the Lands Authority, which he covets, in a Zionist Union-led coalition than in a Likud-led one, and is likely to find at his side many more ministers who support his socio-economic vision in a Center-Left government than in a right-wing one.
Fourthly, Kahlon’s number two – Major General (res.)Yoav Galant – is much more likely to have a say in Israel’s defense policy with Labor’s Amos Yadlin as defense minister than with Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon or Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett.
It is reported that President Reuven Rivlin favors the establishment of a national unity government, including both the Likud and the Zionist Union as the two largest parties. The main obstacle to such a government is that after the Likud has spent the past few months mocking the Zionist Union leadership and trying to convince the voters that there is no such thing as a judicious, responsible, patriotic Left, and the Zionist Union has been arguing that “Bibi has failed in everything and must go home,” it is a little difficult to see Herzog and Netanyahu forming a government that agrees on a common approach to the cost of living and housing problems, or to dealing with Israel’s deteriorating situation in the international arena.
It is also absolutely impossible to visualize Netanyahu, who seems to believe that he is the one and only, serving under Herzog, and at least as things look at the moment, there will be no earthly reason for the president to ask Netanyahu rather than Herzog to form a national unity government.
If, however, there is no escaping a national unity government, I have a suggestion which I hope the president might consider. When Rivlin asks the various parties who they would like to see as prime minister, most of the answers he will receive will name either Netanyahu or Herzog. However, if he were to ask them who they would propose if neither Herzog nor Netanyahu are able or willing to form such a government – in other words, who is their second choice – I have little doubt that he would receive a single answer: Moshe Kahlon.
Kahlon is a moderate Likudnik, a social democrat in his socio-economic approach, who as a Mizrahi refuses to try to make hay of the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi divide, does not raise antagonism among either secular or religious Israelis, and on foreign affairs and security issues is most likely to surround himself with experts, and listen to them.
He is also the least arrogant and egomaniacal leader of any party in Israel today. Kahlon has another advantage, which is that because he does not raise antagonism, he (together with Rivlin as president) could act as a uniting figure, in a reality where hatred, which threatens to turn violent at any moment, is rife. Everyone would also welcome a prime minister who is truly “one of the people,” congenial and smiling. Postscript: As I was about to complete this article a childhood friend called up, asking me whether I thought that a vote for Yair Lapid would hurt Herzog’s chances of becoming prime minister.
My answer was that since I believe that Netanyahu does not want Lapid in a government he might form, and since a national unity government including the Zionist Union and the Likud could do without Yesh Atid, the only governments Lapid would surely be part of were ones headed by Herzog or Kahlon.
I added that my problem with Lapid is that he is an arrogant bigmouth who does not respect the fact that we remember his performance as finance minister, even though his heart is certainly in the right place.
His main virtues – all of which Herzog lacks – are good looks, charisma and a radio-friendly voice.
However, if I were to decide to vote for a Center party, I would prefer Koolanu to Yesh Atid, because I believe that Kahlon has more integrity and humility than Lapid. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the fact that affluent, professional Ashkenazim feel more at home with Lapid than with Kahlon.