Bibi set for power — but who will sit at his right hand?

Battle for coalition influence still open as election day nears


Likud – Yisrael Beiteinu
42 seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 34-36 seats
l According to the polls, the merger between the two large right-wing parties does not seem to have worked, with the new entity losing around 20 per cent of its seats. Despite this, the projected size of the right-wing-religious bloc in the next Knesset makes another term for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister all but certain. Following the merger and the Likud primaries, this will be a more radically right-wing faction than the outgoing one, but there are many indications that Mr Netanyahu will try to include at least one centre-left party in his next coalition for balance and international credibility.
The questions that remain are whether Mr Netanyahu will drop any “traditional” allies from his coalition and what compromises will be reached on thorny issues such as the future of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the deep cuts expected in the budget immediately after the elections and the drafting of yeshivah students.
Another question mark is the level of influence that Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu’s indicted leader, will wield over the new government.

Eight seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 16-18 seats
l Shelly Yachimovich succeeded in re-energising a discredited and fractured party after the departure of former leader Ehud Barak along with over a third of its MKs two years ago.
She has failed, however, to rebuild Labour as a natural alternative to Likud, a party of government and undisputed leader of the opposition.
Her strategy of emphasising fiscal and social affairs at the expense of Labour’s traditional pro-peace platform has backfired. It has not attracted, according to the polls, moderate-right voters, has caused the defection of two former party leaders and not prevented the rise of serious rivals for the crown of leader of the centre-left camp.
Three weeks ago, Ms Yachimovich, who was hoping to serve in a senior position in the next government and gain executive experience, was forced to admit her strategy had failed and announced that Labour would not sit in Mr Netanyahu’s next coalition. The publication of dismal figures on Israel’s ballooning deficit in the last week of the campaign may just award her a last-chance surge. She will have her work cut out in the next Knesset trying to lead a splintered and demoralised opposition.

28 seats in the current Knesset Latest polls: 2-3 seats
l The near disappearance of the party that held the largest number of seats in the last Knesset may seem a mystery but, when one takes into consideration the fact that it was only founded seven years ago and that centrist parties have never survived for long in Israeli politics, Kadima’s demise was almost predictable.
The party lost leaders at a breathtaking speed. Ariel Sharon for medical reasons, Ehud Olmert over allegations of corruption and Tzipi Livni was deposed earlier this year by a landslide in the primaries. Add to this Ms Livni and her successor Shaul Mofaz’s ineptness as leaders of the opposition.
Kadima is still campaigning valiantly against Mr Netanyahu, but it has been all but wiped out by a resurgent Labour and two new centrist rivals, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah headed by Ms Livni, who took with her a significant portion of the party’s MKs. Despite all these woes, over the past few days, the polls are showing a slight revival of Kadima’s fortunes, indicating that Mr Mofaz may still cross the electoral threshold and the party will survive for another term, albeit in a drastically shrunken form.

Three seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 4-6 seats
l Despite surveys that a large proportion of Israelis hold liberal and pro-peace views, the only Zionist party that unabashedly calls itself left-wing has failed in recent elections to repeat its achievements of the 1990s when it reached double figures. The polls indicate a slight rise from the last election’s low point, but party leader Zehava Galon is still frustrated at Meretz’s failure to break out of the “Tel Aviv bubble.”
Meretz’s parliamentary line-up contains a politically-correct mixture of young candidates — half are women, — and it is the only Zionist list with openly gay and Israeli-Arab candidates in prominent spots. However, this has not been enough to revive its fortunes. Neither have Ms Galon’s promises that they are the only party in the centre-left camp that will not join Mr Netanyahu’s coalition under any circumstances. It is not that voters do not believe her; they do. But many of them prefer to vote for a party that may have some influence on the government’s direction.

No seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 7-9 seats
l Dubbed by its rivals the “party of refugees”, the new centrist “movement” was founded just two months ago by Tzipi Livni and quickly formed an instant list of candidates, mainly culled from Kadima and Labour. Hatnuah is the only party of the centre-left to place the stalled diplomatic process at the centre of its campaign. In most surveys, Ms Livni comes second-place as the candidate best suited to be prime minister (after Mr Netanyahu), but this has yet to translate itself into better polling. It seems that while many Israelis appreciate Ms Livni’s qualities as a stateswoman, they do not rate her very highly as a politician.
Last week, another of her political manoeuvres failed as her attempt to stitch the centrist parties together in a joint front against Mr Netanyahu crash-landed before it even took off, with both Ms Yachimovich and Yair Lapid ganging up on her.
Ms Livni may describe Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman as “a disaster for Israel” but she has not ruled out joining their next coalition, preferring perhaps to try to influence from within after four fruitless years in opposition. A so-far lukewarm response from Likud indicates that she is their least-favoured centrist partner.

11 seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 9-12 seats
l After 13 years out of politics, the charismatic former leader and ex-con Aryeh Deri is back at the head of the Sephardi-Charedi party in an uneasy triumvirate with his former protégé Eli Yishai and the even younger Ariel Atiass. But Mr Deri seems to have lost his star power, at least as far as the polls are concerned, and Shas is not rising, and even losing part of its strength.
The party is trying every trick in its bag, complaining of generations-old discrimination against Mizrahi Israelis, stirring up bad feeling against Russian immigrants and African refugees, and promising its right-leaning electorate that they will join a Netanyahu coalition. Meanwhile, they have been warning of the cuts Mr Netanyahu is planning, and have even trying to use the minor stroke suffered by spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yossef over the weekend to curry favour with voters. So far to little avail, but the party leaders comfort themselves with the thought that polls have often underestimated Shas in the past.

Yesh Atid
No seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls 9-11 seats
l Former broadcaster and columnist Yair Lapid burst onto the political scene a year ago, promising to transform Israeli politics and, in some polls conducted at the time, appearing set to win over 20 Knesset seats. Expectations have receded somewhat since then and many prospective voters have been underwhelmed by Yesh Atid’s manifesto, which included ill-defined plans for electoral reform and promises to make life easier for the middle classes. It also contained proposals to force Charedim to pay taxes and serve in the army. More experienced leaders on the centre-left have drawn away many of the voters who had been considering a vote for the party.
Yesh Atid will not be the second-largest party in the next Knesset and probably not the third either, but Mr Lapid is eager to serve in Mr Netanyahu’s next government to prove himself as a minister. While Mr Lapid has promised not to be the fig leaf of an extreme coalition, senior Likud ministers have said in recent days that they believe that Yesh Atid could be their ideal coalition partners. Yesh Atid could therefore replace Shas around the cabinet table.

Habayit Hayehudi
Seven seats in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 13-15 seats
l The rebranded National Religious Party merged with National Union has proved the ideal platform for first-time politician Naftali Bennett to offer voters a new version of the religious right. He has combined rigid positions against a Palestinian state with flexible views on social and religious affairs, all wrapped up in a user-friendly, all-Israeli, warm and Jewish package. In the polls, voters, many of them secular, are flocking to Mr Bennett’s party, abandoning Likud in the process. The 40-year-old former high-tech entrepreneur is the first of a new generation of Israeli politicians trying to transcend social and religious divides (between Jews) — and so far it seems to be working.
Estranged from Mr Netanyahu, whom Mr Bennett served in the past as chief of staff, Habayit Hayehudi is still expected to be a central part of the next coalition. In an attempt to prepare his entrance into the cabinet, Mr Bennett has tried in recent days to moderate his image by saying that Eretz Yisrael is not the only flag of Habayit Hayehudi. Whether or not he really believes that and despite Mr Netanyahu’s dislike, electoral mathematics almost certainly dictate the party’s inclusion.

Am Shalem
One seat in the current Knesset
Latest polls: 0-2 seats
l After falling out with Shas over his liberal opinions on state and religion, Rabbi Chaim Amsellem founded his own party. At first the polls predicted he could get as many as four seats: many Israelis considered voting for a man they perceived to be bravely challenging a moribund rabbinical establishment. But, over the past month, Am Shalem has been declining in the polls and few now predict it returning to the Knesset.
Like other small parties, Am Shalem faces the barrier of the electoral threshold: two per cent of all valid votes. Many Israelis may agree with his views and sympathise with his struggle but, if the polls give him a slim chance of crossing the threshold, they will be loath to “waste” their vote on his party. Other parties struggling to cross the threshold are Kadima, the ultra-right Otzma Le’Yisrael, and Eretz Hadasha, which promises to reveal the truth about the connection between Israel’s politicians and business tycoons. Occasionally one of these parties confounds all polls, as the Pensioners Party did in the 2006 elections when it won seven seats.

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