New Poll Offers False Hope in Israeli Elections

Many people in the United States are keeping a close eye on the Israeli elections, due to take place on March 17. The Herzoglatest, and last, poll by the Knesset Channel in Israel came out yesterday, and it may open a lot of eyes.

The poll shows the Zionist Camp coalition—Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah— garnering 24 seats, while Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party come in second at 21. The report inHa’aretz analyzes those numbers even further to show that 56 elected Knesset members would likely recommend Herzog to form the next government, while Netanyahu would have the backing of 55.

As always, however, the devil is in the details. Assuming for the moment that the election turns out exactly as this poll predicts—which, given the nature of such polls, is not terribly likely—here is the breakdown of the 120 seats in the next Knesset:

Zionist Camp: 24
Likud: 21
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s centrist party): 14
Joint List (Hadash, a Jewish-Arab communist party, and Balad and Ta’al, the two Arab parties): 13
Jewish Home (Naftali Bennett’s far right party): 12
Kulanu (a new centrist party headed by Moshe Kahlon): 9
Shas (a religious party representing Jews of Middle Eastern descent): 7
Meretz (leftist Zionist party): 6
United Torah Judaism (a religious party of Jews of European descent): 6
Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman’s right wing/Russian party): 5
Yachad/Ha’am Itanu (A far right party headed by Eli Yishai): 4
(Note: the numbers add up to 121 due to rounding)

A careful observer might notice a big problem for Herzog if the election comes out this way.

First of all, Herzog would have to get enough parties to recommend to the president of Israel that he be given the first opportunity to form a government. Ha’aretz seems quite certain that the Joint List would do so, but that is far from certain. Kulanu has already stated that they would not recommend any party. Without the Joint List, Herzog would have only 43 or 44 recommendations, and that won’t be enough.

But let’s say he does get past that hurdle. That Joint List question comes up again.

No Israeli governing coalition has ever included Arab parties. Herzog has given no indication that he is ready to break that precedent. Even if he were to do so, it’s at best a 50-50 chance that the Joint List would accept. His clear coalition partners are Yesh Atid and Meretz, so he needs to get the support of enough other parties to collect 17 more seats.

Without the Joint List, Herzog would need to bring in both religious parties and Kulanu. That might not be possible with Meretz and Yesh Atid in the coalition, both of whom are unlikely to be deemed acceptable to the religious parties (and the feeling is mutual). Even if the Joint List agreed to join with Zionist Camp, Yesh Atid might bolt as a result.

The road forward for Netanyahu is much cleaner. He could, potentially, get as many as 64 or 65 seats in a coalition of Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Yachad. Even if one party objects to another potential coalition partner, Netanyahu could afford to lose one if things break right.

It’s important to note that this poll is the most optimistic one yet for those who hope to see Netanyahu defeated. It can be argued that, since this is the last poll from this particular source, it points to a trend that could continue for the next week and give a few more seats to a potential Zionist Camp coalition. The more likely indication, however, is that even if Herzog manages to best Netanyahu in total seats for his party, he will be unable to form a government.

It never hurts to be optimistic. But the wiser course is to prepare for Act IV of the Reign of Netanyahu.