Israel: What if there’s no coalition by tomorrow’s deadline?

The state of play

Yesterday, Yisrael Beiteinu rejected the offer of joining the next Israeli Government. Likud immediately signed a coalition agreement with Shas, leaving them with 53 coalition members and only one open negotiation – with Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home.

A couple of weeks ago, Bennett announced that handing over the Religious Affairs Ministry to Shas would mean the end of negotiations with Jewish Home. Well, that’s happened. Shas has the Ministry, and even got a control of the appointment of judges to the Rabbinic courts via the Justice Ministry.

Jewish Home was offered the Education Ministry and Diaspora Ministry for Bennett, the Culture and Sport Ministry for Ayelet Shaked, Agriculture and the settlement affairs division for Uri Ariel and (I think) a deputy defence minister. Then Liberman’s resignation shook things up. Suddenly there’s an extra senior role – Foreign Minister – up for grabs. Jewish Home was already unhappy with the coalition offer, but is now also insulted that the Foreign Minister role, originally denied to Naftali Bennett partly because Benjamin Netanyahu needed to keep Liberman on-board, is not being offered to Jewish Home.

Last night Likud gave Jewish Home’s negotiators an ultimatum – take our offer or leave it. After midnight, the Jewish Home faction meeting instructed Naftali Bennett to take over negotiating personally, also implying that they were calling Likud’s bluff. Jewish Home is now demanding that Bennett becomes either Foreign or Defence Minister or that Shaked is made Justice Minister.

Since then, apparently, Naftali Bennett is unreachable and has turned off his phone. Now, with 28 hours left until the expiry of the deadline to form a government, a major disagreement has still not been resolved and time is running out.

Options

Most likely, someone will compromise and a deal will be done. I suspect that Likud is in a stronger position than Jewish Home, but we’ll see. But what if there isn’t a deal by Midnight on Thursday?

The law is simple, clear – and widely misunderstood.

By midnight on Thursday (ie Wednesday night), Netanyahu will have to do one of three things:

  1. Call President Reuven Rivlin and tell him that he has failed to form a Government that can win the confidence of the Knesset. If this happens, the President would ask someone else — almost certainly Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog — to try and form a coalition. This would almost certainly fail because the numbers aren’t there. There are provisions for a third MK to have a try, but if that doesn’t work then there are automatic new elections 90 days or so after the end of the road. New elections would mean new primaries, especially for Likud and Labour/Zionist Union. Both parties might face leadership challenges. Things could get very interesting and very messy, or nothing much could change.
  2. Do nothing. If Netanyahu doesn’t call Rivlin at all it’s considered that he failed to form a government and things proceed exactly as at point 1.
  3. Tell the President that he has formed government.

If Mr Netanyahu tells Rubi Rivlin that he has formed a government, then a new timer starts – 7 days. The Speaker of the Knesset (Likud MK Yuli Edelstein) must schedule a vote on the new government within 7 days of the announcement. However, Netanyahu doesn’t have to announce the full make-up of the Government to Rivlin, and Rivlin doesn’t have to check that it’s true, meaning that negotiations could continue for another week.

Those negotiations could be aimed at bringing either Jewish Home into a 61-seat coalition or the Zionist Union into a National Unity Government. But they could also theoretically be aimed at seeking support for the 53-member coalition as it stands today.

It works like this: The new government is presented to the Knesset. This is the actual government, the list of ministers and deputy-ministers, not the coalition: a government of twenty-something MKs. That list must be passed by a simple majority of the Knesset. It doesn’t need 61 votes. It just needs more MKs to vote for it than vote against it.

Could Netanyahu win support for a minority government? It’s possible. Jewish Home might be able to stay out of the coalition but I’m not sure they can directly vote to bring down Bibi and give Herzog a chance without damaging themselves in a second election. The same logic applies to Yisrael Beiteinu.

That would leave things exactly balanced: 14 MKs abstaining, 53 MKs voting for the government and 53 (from the ZU, Meretz, Yesh Atid and the Joint List) who would probably vote against.

If Netanyahu can convince one extra MK to abstain then he has a Government. It’d be a dysfunctional, weak government that wouldn’t last very long until it needed more parties to join and support it. But so’s the 61-seat coalition deal with Jewish Home.

In those circumstances, the Zionist Union or (more likely) Yesh Atid might decide to allow Netanyahu to form a weak minority government in the hope of bringing him down later. Or they might just vote the government down, sending us back to Step 1 above.

Most likely, of course, is the 61-seat deal with Bennett sooner or later. It should all become clear by tomorrow night. Or in a week. Or so.

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Election Day 2015 – early afternoon update

I voted this morning a bit after 10, so now I have time to speculate about what’s happening out in the country.

To be clear – I have no access to any exit polls or opnion polls since Friday — which is good, because it’s illegal to publicise them even if I did. Those last polls showed the Zionist Union opening up a big gap over Likud in the last week of the campaign.

bicompoll
BICOM’s poll of polls, prepared by me.

Since last Thursday night the Likud campaign has been in overdrive, with Benjamin Netanyahu doing more media interviews in one evening than in the last six years of his time as Prime Minister, talking up the Zionist Union’s chances and calling on right-wing voters to support Likud.

There is anecdotal evidence that this might be working, winning back voters from the Jewish Home party and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.

That’s especially bad news for Jewish Home, which was polling at 15-17 seats in January and 11-12 on Thursday. If Mr Netanyahu wins a few seats from Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett’s party could end up doing rather worse than it did in 2013 when it won 12 seats. Some party sources say they’ll be down to single figures.

But it’d good news for Netanyahu.

Here’s my guess about what we’ll see, assuming all three smaller parties (Beiteinu, Meretz, Yachad) make the threshold. If they don’t then every party will increase proportionately.

  • Netanyahu’s frantic campaign and moves rightwards will have stopped the bleeding for Likud and might even help move the party up by a few seats. I reckon 23 or so.
  • Labour and Yesh Atid will benefit from anti-Bibi votes and votes as people come off the fence. Together they’ll be something like 40 seats, but the precise split will depend on how Tzipi Livni’s announcement last night that she’s willing to give up the rotating premiership plays.
  • Jewish Home is in trouble and will be down to at least 10 seats and probably single figures.
  • Kulanu is hard to call. If it does well than it will be taking votes from mainly Likud and possibly Shas at this point. It’ll probably get some “election surprise” seats to counter those Netanyahu has won back. So I reckon 10-12.
  • Likud is claiming massive 300% increases turnout in the Arab sector. That’s not the case — turnout is reportedly slightly up there but not as much as the Right is claiming. So I reckon the Joint List will do as expected at 13-14 seats.

Beyond that we’re into small parties and sectoral parties where things are harder to predict.

I may update later based on rumours and gossip as the day progresses.

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Mergers and rumours – Election roundup Sunday 25 January 2015

I know I was writing about list mergers a month ago, and here I am doing it all again. Luckily there’s only one more week of this until the lists are filed and mergers are impossible, but until then there are plenty of rumours:

For the past week there have been continual low-level rumours that a Likud/Bayit Yehudi merger was still a possibility and could happen within days. Any such deal would HAVE to happen by the end of the week when the lists are supposed to be finalised. There have even been polls that suggest that the merged party wouldn’t lose seats in the merger. The big winners would be Benjamin Netanyahu, who’d almost assure that he’d remain as Prime Minister after the election, and Naftali Bennett, who’d be well-positioned to take over from Mr Netanyahu if and when he does eventually retire. It’d basically be the same as the Likud/Beiteinu deal last election, which is why both parties are suspicious of it. I suspect Likud in particular would be resistant to any such deal but would find it hard to defy Mr Netanyahu during an election campaign.

Tonight, there are possibly-linked rumours that the leadership of Bayit Yehudi is going to refuse to unify with the Tekuma party. Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma ran a joint list last election, and a month ago Tekuma was planning to leave the list and join up with Eli Yishai’s Yachad Ha’am Itanu faction. The party decided to keep its partnership with Naftali Bennett, who offered Tekuma better-placed candidates as an enticement to stay. But it’s Tekuma candidates Orit Struck and Bezalel Smotrich that have been the most controversial people on the joint list, perhaps damaging Bayit Yehudi’s appeal to more-moderate voters. If Bayit Yehudi decides to kick out Tekuma now, Tekuma will surely join Eli Yishai after all, dragging his party over the electoral threshold, with probably no cost to those people on the Bennett-side of the joint list. Of course, it would also leave the way clearer for a merged list with Likud.

Another joint list is that between the two Arab parties and Hadash, running as the ‘Joint List’. The list has said it won’t join any government, but might recommend Issac Herzog as Prime Minister in an attempt to get rid of Mr Netanyahu

One merger that now isn’t happening is Kulanu and Yesh Atid. It seems that there were serious talks but ultimately Moshe Kahlon announced that his party would run alone.

The final rumour is barely more than a whisper of a whisper: If Likud joins up with Bayit Yehudi, then Yesh Atid might join with the Zionist Camp (aka Labour) to create a centre-left counterweight list.

All of this will have to be sorted by the end of the week. Nothing could change or everything could change.

Oh, and one party seems to be out: Moshe Feiglin left Likud announcing he’d run in the election as head of a new party. As of today there is no party and Mr Feiglin organised his son’s wedding on election day. So it’s pretty safe to say that he’ll be too busy to run an election campaign.

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Election roundup Wednesday 21 January 2015: Part 2

(Part 1 here)

Of course now, there are lists and candidates, there can be gaffes and dirt.

There have already been a load of them.

As soon as the Labour primary was finished, Bayit Yehudi put out images attacking the party’s candidates — running as the Zionist Camp — as being anti-Zionist, including quotes in which some candidates appeared to say they supported marking Naqba Day or that the Hatikva was racist. Particular fire has been focused on new candidates Yossi Yonah and Zohir Bahalul, who’ve been involved in activism against Israeli government policies including supporting soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank. The candidates claimed that the short (few-word) quotes used by Bayit Yehudi were taken out of context. This is part of Bayit Yehudi’s main electoral strategy, which seems to be based around attacking Labour as way to prove they ‘take on the Left’.

One of Yisrael Beiteinu’s new candidates is Shira Mistriel, a 24-year-old student from the Facebook generation who didn’t think to clean up her Facebook before entering politics. A trawl of her Facebook wall revealed her joking about a stone-throwing Arab being run over by a Jewish driver in 2010, laughing at him as a ‘smelly Arab’. A few other Facebook comments from her late teens made jokes about Arabs too. This triggered a debate about the use of old Facebook posts in political campaigns and whether it’s fair to blame someone from teenage stupidity.

Another new candidate drawing attention is Bayit Yehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich, one of Tekuma’s members running in 9th place on the Bayit Yehudi list. Mr Smotrich was once arrested by the Shin Bet with 700 litres of petrol, which they believed he was planning to use in terror attacks on Israeli infrastructure to stop the Gaza Disengagement. No charges were brought. Mr Smotri now runs an NGO dedicated to trying to demolish the houses of Israeli Arabs and Bedouin in the Negev if they were built without permits.

Mr Smotrich was attacked this week for running a ‘Beast Parade’ in Jerusalem in 2006 as an ‘alternative’ to the Gay Pride parade, where he implied that gay people were worse than animals. He reportedly told Haaretz “I did it when I was young, and I regret it”. Yesterday it was also revealed that he’d run a campaign to stop bus companies from employing Israeli Arab drivers

Another Bayit Yehudi candidate, Sarah Eliash, 17th on the list, made the news yesterday for her position that women should not serve in the IDF. She told a radio station last year “I think that the IDF is not a fitting framework for women, I would not recommend that girls to be in it”. Ms Eliash, a High School principal, also said that she encouraged girls in her school not to join the IDF and to do National Service instead. While a common position in the National-Religious world, the idea that women shouldn’t join the army doesn’t fit so well with the modern open image the party’s trying to project.

Part 3 will have to wait until tomorrow, when we’ll talk about political ads and more merger rumours.

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Election roundup Wednesday 21 January 2015: Part 1

It’s been a long time since I wrote an election update so there’s a lot to say. I’m going to split this one into parts. Part 1 will discuss party lists, Part 2 will talk about candidate rows and part 3 will deal eith anything else. Anyway, here’s part 1.

Party Lists

First off, most parties have their lists now. Labour‘s Primary didn’t produce many surprises, with Shelly Yachimovich coming top and Stav Shaffir doing well. General Amos Yadlin joined the list too, as their Defence Minister candidate, after Shaul Mofaz decided not to join Labour.

In the Bayit Yehudi primary, a few of Naftali Bennett’s preferred candidates didn’t come high enough to be in realistic slots. Overall, the Bayit Yehudi list has several women in realistic spots, making the relative lack on the Likud list more apparent. The primary election was mired in complaints by candidates and nearly didn’t happen after a court injunction froze the election but then the injunction itself was vacated because the complainants didn’t pay the court fee. Despite one recount, some of the lower-placed candidates are still trying to take the whole process to court citing irregularities.

Likud had its own recounts following its primary two weeks ago. Two well-known figures, MK Tzipi Hotovely and former MK Avi Dichter, were fighting over the 20th spot on the Likud list. After a recount, Ms Hotoveli took the place and Mr Dichter was moved down into an unrealistic spot. He’s now also going to court to contest the recount.

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu added General Yoav Galant, women’s campaigner Rachel Azarya and Ethiopian journalist Tzaga Malcho to his list, which has a good gender balance and a nice array of experts. It seems like he’s doing something similar to Yesh Atid last election.

Yesh Atid hasn’t published its list yet, but David Stern MK, a Tnua MK who was left out in the cold when Tzipi Livni teamed up with Labour, has joined the party.

In Yisrael Beiteinu, many of the existing Knesset members are out – David Rotem, Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir are gone – replaced by new names, with current MK Orly Levy becoming number 2 on the list. A friend of mine, Ashley Perry, is running at number 20 so good luck to him!

There’s little change in the Meretz list, which mainly chose existing or past MKs for its top spots.

Hadash had perhaps the biggest change after Chairman Mohammed Barakeh withdrew, leaving the way clear for Aimen Odeh to become the new Chair.

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