|Early notes: When reviewing Israeli politics one should remember that what makes a party part of the centre left block or the centre right block is their general policies in the foreign affairs division. That means that a socialist party (and theoretically also a communist party) could be considered a right wing party depending on their ideas regarding Syria and the PO. A few other notes of significance: 1) Israel economic spectrum is much to the left of the US, like almost any other western democracy. 2) The best indication of a person's vote is religion and ethnicity. Arabs almost always vote for one of the 3 main Arab lists (though Druze are an exception, most of their vote goes for Jewish parties, mainly left wing but a sizeable right wing vote as well); Ultra orthodox and "Kipa sruga" (="religious Zionists", a term I disdain) also have their parties (Ultra orthodox, or "haredim" almost exclusively vote for their parties, religious Zionist not so much anymore); There are "Russian parties" (not so much anymore, the only party currently in the Knesset with a majority Russian electorate is Lieberman's "Israel Beytenu"); There's a clear divide between Sephardim* non religious Jews, usually more traditionalist, conservatives in attitudes and lower socio economic status, voting for the right wing parties (mainly Shas and Likud) and Ashkenazi* non religious Jews, more secular and liberal and upper scale voting for left wing parties.
*Sephardim and Ashkenazim are terms used to describe Jews who came from, or more likely their parents and grandparents came from, Muslim countries (mainly Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia but also Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria for the most part, these are Sephardim) or Christian European countries (mainly Germany, France, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania and the former USSR, these are Ashkenazim).
We'll start with the current makeup of the Knesset:
Kadima 21 seats (Left)
Likud 27 seats (Right)
Israel Beytenu 15 seats (R)
Shas 10 seats (R)
Labour 8 seats (L)
HaTnua 7 seats (L)
United Torah Judaism 5 seats (R)
Independence 5 seats (L)
The Jewish Home of Mafdal and National Union 5 seats (R)
Hadash 4 seats (L)
Ra'am Ta'al 4 seats (L)
Meretz 3 seats (L)
Balad 3 seats (L)
Power to Israel 2 seats (R)
Am Shalem 1 seat (R)
These numbers are not the results of the last elections, they are the numbers at dissolution. There are differences, for example Kadima got 28 seats in the elections but since then 7 MK have moved to Livny's new party- HaTnua ("the movement", the most generic term one could pick). All in all, you have 65 seats for the right block and 55 seats for the left block out of a Knesset of 120 seats. In Israel, all 120 seats are elected at the same time in a national proportional system (with a threshold of 2%) with voters voting for parties lists, not specific candidates. The last elections were held in February 10th,2009, the next will be held in January 22nd, almost 4 years later, an achievement by Israeli standards.
After the last elections there was uncertainty who will lead the government as Kadima was the biggest party whilst Likud led the dominant right wing block (the result of a Kadima campaign that squeezed the other Left parties to record lows, Labor with 13 seats and Meretz with 3). Indeed, both parties held victory rallies that night...The law says that the president chooses who is the candidate with the best chances of forming a coalition and gives him the right to do so, this after being advised by every party in the Knesset. As it turned out, every right wing and religious party supported Netanyahu as PM (amounting to 65 MK) whilst no party other then Kadima supported Livny (28 MK) and so President Peres (elected to his office as a Kadima member) had no choice but to give the right to Netanyahu who indeed formed a coalition with relative ease by March 31st, 2009. The coalition was formed by Netanyahu's Likud (27 seats), Lieberman's Israel Beytenu (15), Barak's Labour (13), as well as the ultra orthodox parties (Shas with 11 and UTJ with 5) and the small religious party of the Jewish Home (3), the incarnation of the classical Mafdal. It was a coalition of 74 MK in theory but 69 in practice as 5 Labour MK (including Peretz and Yechimovich) opposed Labour's entrance and pretty much marched to their own tune. The price was heavy for Netanyahu, Barak was given the ministry of defence whilst Lieberman was given the foreign affairs ministry, 2/3 of the most important ministries (the third being the treasury).
The first big bump was in the foreign affairs department as Netanyahu, after International pressure, went to my own University of Bar Ilan and gave a speech adopting the two state solution in June 2009, everyone knew Netanyahu supported it but it was seen as unnecessary to go this far out (giving several specifics) towards an Arab side unwilling to compromise in any way or form. Later Netanyahu announced a freeze of construction in Judea and Samaria (whilst also freezing eastern Jerusalem without announcing it), something no Israeli PM has ever done, all to bring Mahmud Abbas to the negotiations table. It did not work and after 10 months and a lot of right wing pressure the freeze was abandoned formally (though still construction was slowed down significantly in these areas). The lack of negotiation for more than a year made Labour members openly critical of the government and Barak's standing hit new lows as Labour dropped to 8 seats and less at the polls. In January 2011 Barak, knowing he has no future in the party, left it with 4 other MK (5 MK was the minimum for splitting a party for legal reasons) forming the independence party, a centrist outfit centering around his own leadership, leaving Labour with 8 members and only room to grow, and the government with 66 MK, quite enough as these members were extremely loyal.
In the summer of 2011 the focus of attention moved to economic issues as "social justice" protests broke out. The intent of the protestors was unclear, a mess of middle class citizens wanting lower taxes, protesting high cost of living, lower class citizens wanting more government aide and left wing ideologues going after a socialist/communist flag and "change of priorities" which meant going after the ultra orthodox and the settlers. The protest led to the formation of the Trajtenberg committee searching for ways of easing the lives of people, headed by a known and respected economist. The committee reached some conclusions, some of them adopted by the government. That was enough to quiet most of the protests (together with the end of summer brake and a rather cold winter) and the summer the next year, to the dismay of many in the left, no protests broke out. The protests did have an influence as the government kept on blowing the budget, later hiking taxes, doing the exact opposite of Netanyahu's past known convictions and actions as the minister of the treasury under Sharon. One of the reasons of the early elections is the massive deficit which means a very nasty 2013 budget which is best handled, so Netanyahu thought, after the elections.
The fall and winter of 2011-2012 was centered on leadership elections in all major parties. Labour went first in September as it stood with an interim leader (former MK Micha Harish, an old respected figure) since Barak resigned the party. The elections were held between MK Shelly Yechimovich, former leaders Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz and MK and former minister (and son of former President) Isaac Hertzog. Yechimovich and Peretz proceeded to second round in which Yechimovitch won. Her win has a strong connection to the protest as she was focused on a social democratic agenda and not on the Israeli Arab conflict which was the main issue for Peretz (though Peretz is very much a socialist just like Yechimovich could not be mistaken for a right winger). Labour shoot up the polls as Yechimovich was a popular MK for years. Next was hard left party Meretz as leader Chaim Oron resigned from leadership (after resigning from the Knesset earlier) due to record low performance in 2009. 2 MK ran, Ilan Gil'on, focusing more on a socialist agenda and Zahava Gal'on running on foreign affairs issues (again, both hard socialists and hard lefties, the difference is stylistic and on emphasis). Gal'on won, taking the party further to the left. Netanyahu also announced leadership elections in the ruling party. His only opponent was perennial candidate Moshe Feiglin, in his fourth run, Netanyahu won handily 77-23. Livny was also forced to announce leadership elections after delaying it for years (in accordance with the party's constitution which gives much power to the party leader over democratic characteristics). Before the 2009 elections Livny barely held off Shaul Mofaz by 400 votes with allegations of fraud. Livny is known as very bad at small groups and "unhuman" in personal affairs, whilst she was busy in international cocktails Mofaz criss crossed the country and won easily 62-38, a huge embarrassment for Livny who left the Knesset several days later.
The first shot of the elections was when the Supreme Court claimed a law, allowing ultra orthodox youngsters to avoid the draft if they learn Torah in Yeshiva's at the time, was unconstitutional. That sent the political arena into a frenzy as an alternate law should have been legislated. After several weeks with no apparent solution Netanyahu decided on early elections in May. That decision should be approved by the Knesset like any other law, after speeches and debate. All day debate ensued and it was clear speaker Rivlin tried to delay the final vote, indeed near midnight, May 7th, Mofaz and Netanyahu announced the entrance of Kadima to the coalition, in fear of polls showing them with less than 10 seats. That affair was short lived, in July, after no agreement was reached (surprise, surprise) Mofaz left the coalition which lasted 3 more months before deciding on elections in September. The damage has been done however, for both Likud which fell to the same place they were in 2009, less than 30 seats, and for Kadima which fell very close to the threshold with 3-5 seats.
When the elections were supposed to be held in August/September Yair Lapid, son of Tommy Lapid, former chairman of ultra secular Shinuy Party, and a known journalist himself, announced the formation of a new "centrist" secular party, named "Yesh Atid" ("there's a future"). In the months leading to the elections Lapid added members from every corner of the society: mayors, athletes, high ranking police and military personnel and more, none of them a current or former MK. His party is moderate leftist in foreign affairs whilst being capitalistic, attacking Yechimovich in the pursuit of the votes of left wing voters with more conservative fiscal outlook.
The first big story of these elections was the joint list of Likud and Lieberman's Israel Beytenu. The parties were not merged (yet), instead each party elected its own list by their method, a big primary elections in Likud and Lieberman's picks in Israel Beytenu. At first it was expected that the list would be consisted of 2 Likud members for each Israel Beytenu member, that has changed since then to a better deal for Lieberman, leading to a small Likud party in the next Knesset of about 20-22 MK (out of 32-35 MK to the joined list, according to the polls). Lieberman has since been indicted on corruption charges and resigned the FA ministry whilst keeping his job as MK and his place as second in the joined list and leader of the party. In November operation Pillar of Cloud in the south against terrorist organization of Hamas was held, ending in anticlimax of an early ceasefire deal which raised some eyebrows and moved some votes away from Likud to JH.
The story of these elections might be Naftali Bennett and his party, the Jewish Home, Mafdal's descendant. After years of deliberating the issue a decision was made to elect its leaders and candidates through primaries for the first time in its history. Months of preparation ended in November, just before the elections, when Bennett, a relative newcomer and youngster, won handily over long time MK Zvulun Orlev 67-33. The Jewish Home merged with 2/4 of the parties consisting the more religious and right wing National Union (also 2/4 MK of the NU) and shoot up in the polls, garnering half of their prospective votes from secular Jews searching for a party to the right of the Likud as Israel Beytenu was no longer viable after announcing its joint list with Likud. The two remaining MK of NU formed their own party, to the right of JH, called "Otzma LeIsrael" ("strength to Israel") which stands right on the threshold in the polls. Livny announced just before the closing deadline her own party "HaTnua" which gone after left wing votes attacking Yechimovich from the left. Soon joined her, a couple of her loyalists running away from the sinking ship of Kadima and also Yechimovich' foes from Labour: Mitzna and Peretz, both former Labour leaders and to the left of Yechimovich. Both also quite socialists unlike Livny which is more blend in fiscal issues and don't really concern herself with them. Another notable party right on the threshold is "Am Shalem" of MK Amsalem, elected in Shas list 2 consecutive elections but left it after a personal dispute which also led to his transformation, making him a centrist, politically, and flag bearer of liberal (but still orthodox) Judaism, attacking Shas for its religious extremism.
The polls are as follows:
Likud-Israel Beytenu with 33-35 seats.
Labour with 16-18 seats.
JH with 13-15 seats.
Shas with 10-12 seats.
Yesh Atid with 10-12 seats.
HaTnua with 8-10 seats.
3 Arab parties (nationalist Balad, Islamist Ra'am Ta'al and communist Hadash) with 10-11 seats.
UTJ with 5-6 seats.
Meretz with 4-5 seats.
3 parties on the verge of entering: Kadima, Am Shalem and Otzma LeIsrael.
The expected coalition is Likud Beytenu, JH, UTJ, Shas, Yesh Atid and Kadima (if enters the Knesset). The chance of a secular Likud+Left government was reduced by Yechimovich announcing she would not enter the coalition. Livny didn't announce similar statement but the animosity between herself and Netanyahu is known and she might be too far to the left and could not live with JH and the more rightists in the Likud. What should be noted are last minute movements, polls are forbidden in the last 3 days or so, the last polls will be the ones published this Friday. If anything interesting will be revealed there I will update the diary accordingly.
Exit polls out (using those of 4 TV channels):
Likud Beytenu 31/30 seats
Yesh Atid 18/19 seats
Labour 17 seats
Jewish Home 12/13/14 seats
HaTnua 6/7 seats
Meretz 6/7 seats
Shas 11/12/13 seats
UTJ 6/5 seats
Arabs 8/10/11 seats
Otzma LeIsrael 0/2/3 seats
The final unofficial results are as follows:
Likud Beytenu 31 seats
Yesh Atid 19 seats
Labour 15 seats
JH 12 seats
Shas 11 seats
UTJ 7 seats
HaTnua 6 seats
Meretz 6 seats
Ra'am Ta'al 4 seats
Hadash 4 seats
Balad 3 seats
Kadima 2 seats
That accounts to a 61/59 right wing majority, a very much reduced majority. The turnover between the 18th Knesset and the 19th is huge, 54/120 MK will be new, some of them were MK in the past (Livny, HaNegbi and others) most weren't. Why did this happen? Likud's campaign, as last time was disastrous and the joint list was a mistake as it drove away both Russians who voted YB and Sephardim who voted for Likud. JH received a lot of religious votes who previously voted for Likud as Likud had a very negative campaign against the JH but also against prominent Rabbis who supported JH and generally the religious public. Seculars who wanted to vote for JH didn't want to vote for an extreme party (as Likud suggested it was) but at the same time were not happy with the government and Netanyahu and so moved to Lapid. Labour ran with a socialist ticket and Livny with a clear left wing ticket asking for quick negotiations, both failed miserably. Lapid ran with a generic secular campaign without saying clear statements and won the votes of both right wingers and left wingers who wanted a change in the government.
What kind of coalition would be? one thing we do know is that Netanyahu will be PM and Lapid will be the strongman in the government. To those two (and Lieberman) Labour, HaTnua, JH and Shas would want to join (even though Yechimovich tries to lead Labour to the Opposition but might not even be relevant as her party members are furious) and the Bibi+Lapid duo would have to decide.
Hope you enjoyed my (first) diary!