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Update – 25 January 2013

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Posted Friday 25 January 2013 at 12:15pm:

On Tuesday, elections for Israel’s 19th Knesset took place. Despite polls prior to the election suggesting that it would be an easy win for Israel’s Right, the results were rather surprising with a 60-60 dead-heat between the Right-wing and Centre-Left blocs. However, after the final count, which included the counting of the ballots of soldiers, patients in hospitals, prisoners, and overseas government personnel (among others), the vote managed to swing 61-59 to the Right-wing bloc’s favour (see more).

The voter turn-out was 67.7%, and while that is only 2.5% more than the turnout in 2009, what was compelling was the distribution of votes, which went as follows:

Likud Beiteinu – 31
Yesh Atid – 19
Labor – 15
Habayit Hayehudi – 12
Shas – 11
United Torah Judaism – 7
Meretz – 6
Hatnuah – 6
United Arab List – Ta’al – 4
Hadash – 4
Balad – 3
Kadima – 2

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ran on a joint ticket. Prior to the elections held a total of 42 seats and were expected to receive at least 45 seats so while they still received the greatest number of seats this time, the result would have been a minor disappointment to these parties.

On the other side of the spectrum, Yair Lapid, a former journalist who formed the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party last year, looms as the rising star of the election, winning 19 seats – ahead of a projected 10. The unexpected result puts him in the position of leading the second largest party in the Knesset and makes him an important player in the coming process of coalition building.

Kadima, which won the most amount of mandates in the last election only managed to get two in this election, just scraping over the electoral threshold while its former leader, Tzipi Livni’s party, Hatnuah, managed to win six seats.

A record number of 26 women were voted in to the Knesset, with three of those being leaders of parties (Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yachimovich and Zahava Gal-On of Meretz), but Merav Michaeli, an incoming Labor MK was not impressed, stating, “Wow, what do you say, 26 out of 120? As in, 26 women and 94 men? Israel is 70th out of 138 countries with female representatives in parliament” (see more).

The Knesset also boasts 50 brand new MKs, including Yair Lapid’s entire list, who have not served in the Knesset before.

While it has been reported that the Arab voter turnout was low in these elections, between them the Arab parties garnered 11 seats (initially thought to be 12 until the final votes were included), which is up from the 10 they held in the last Knesset. Please read this piece about the curious case of the Arab voter in the Israeli elections. It raises some interesting points as to how Arab representation could be higher. That said, for a country that is daily accused of apartheid, a 10% representation, which does not even include Israeli-Arabs in other parties such as Labor, is still a remarkable achievement.

Ha’aretz has reported on some other election oddities. For example, in one Arab village, the northern town of Umm al-Fahm, while 96% of the vote went to one of the three Arab parties, 19 votes still went to Likud, and as was reported on Channel 2 News in Israel around 105 to Shas! In other Arab town, 109 of 3,000 votes went to Otzma Leyisrael, a party on the far right! And in the Jewish settlement of Sussia, a lone ballot was cast for the United Arab List (see more).

Now that the votes have been cast and the results are in, President Shimon Peres will be formally presented with the results and it will be up to him to select someone who he believes can build the most stable coalition to form the Government. Most likely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will now have the opportunity to form a coalition and he is said to be talking to many parties. He declared, “I see many partners for my goals… We must form the broadest coalition possible”. He listed his five priorities which was tackling the Iran threat, making responsible economic policies, seeking peace, equalising army and national service for citizens and lowering the cost of living and easing the financial burden of on middle classes (see more).

Netanyahu’s option would be to form a narrow right-wing government with Habayit Hayehudi (12), Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7) but this could be problematic, particularly in Israel where an unstable government could mean a swift return to the polls. Another option would be another narrow coalition with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi but this would only bring him up to 61 seats. In order to govern effectively, he would prefer a larger majority.

If the ultra-Orthodox parties joined, it could be a broader option, however it remains to be seen whether Yair Lapid would sit in a coalition with them, having run on a platform in direct opposition to the Haredi parties (see more here and here).

There is also the possibility that Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Kadima would join the coalition, however Tzipi Livni ran on a platform of making peace with the Palestinians while Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi, believes that the establishment of a Palestinian state would be “a catastrophe” (see more). Finding a way to appease all coalition partners is going to be a difficult task for Netanyahu.

In the meantime, Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the Labor party, reached out to Yair Lapid to help form a centre-left coalition. She stated that she would like to “take advantage of the political possibility opened yesterday to form a coalition of moderate, social, peace advocate and centrist forces without Benjamin Netanyahu as PM. I intend to put a great deal of effort into it” (see more).  The centre-left bloc would include Yesh Atid, Labor, Hatnuah, Meretz, Kadima and the three Arab parties, but would still need to bring in more mandates to form a coalition. Even from the outset, it would seem highly unlikely, for example, that the ultra-Orthodox parties would sit in a coalition with the Arab parties.

In any event, Yair Lapid has quashed any rumours that he was looking to form a government without Netanyahu, declaring “I’ve been hearing talk about forming an obstructive bloc, so let’s clear that up right now – there will be no obstructive bloc… We will not team with (Balad MK) Zoabi to form an obstructive bloc – that is just not going to happen. The results of the election are clear and we have to work accordingly” (see more). We reported late last year on Zoabi’s anti-Zionist sentiment, so it comes as no surprise that politicians would not want to sit in a coalition with her!

Furthermore, PM Netanyahu and Yachimovich have now been in contact, and Yachimovich has informed Netanyahu that due to “unbridgeable ideological and political gaps”, she will not be joining the coalition and will take her place on the Opposition (see more).

Our local papers have reported on the election rather fairly (for just a few examples from yesterday’s press click here, here and here). Nevertheless, Honest Reporting notes that many media outlets around the world seemed to form an obsession with the Israeli elections, painting it is a forgone conclusion that the Right would win by an overwhelming majority, putting a nail in the coffin of the peace process and moving Israel to an extreme place of no return. The media was working off polls, but at the same time, they were ignoring a key shift within the Centre and Left-wing movements. The way that the election actually turned out provided a difficulty for such media organisations, which seemed to then ignore the shift to the centre, and continued to focus on the “hard line” elements (see more).

With so much at stake and so many parties vying for a spot in the coalition, we will be watching to see what the next few weeks hold. Please join us for a free community post-election forum on 30 January 2013 at Beth Weizmann Community Centre, Caulfield South at 7:45pm. For those outside of Melbourne, please register to watch the webinar by emailing jcole@zfa.com.au. The event will feature a live hook-up via the web with well-known Israeli journalist Ehud Ya’ari and Or Avi-Guy, an AIJAC policy analyst, who will join us in the auditorium. This is an event not to be missed! Contact Josh on 9272 5618 for more information. Click here for flyer.

Best wishes,
Emily.

Emily Gian
Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia
9272 5507