A new opinion poll shows that if Israel were to hold new elections today, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win with 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, up from its current 19, putting the former television personality in line to be prime minister, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu would drop from 31 seats to 22. Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party would gain three seats for a total of 15, while the Labor Party would drop two seats to 13. The poll of 510 respondents, released Thursday, was conducted by Panels Ltd. for the Knesset Channel.
A second poll, conducted by Maagar Mochot for Maariv and published Friday, gave Lapid 24 seats and Netanyahu 28. Bennett would rise to 13 and Shas to 12, while Labor would drop to 11 and Kadima would disappear.
Israelis could be forced to return to the ballot box this spring if Netanyahu fails to assemble a coalition by mid-March. President Shimon Peres could forestall new elections by tapping another candidate to try and form a coalition within two weeks after Netanyahu’s deadline runs out, but at present no such coalition seems likely.
At present, new elections are looking more likely than any other option. Since the January 22 elections Netanyahu has managed to sign one coalition deal, with the dovish Tzipi Livni and her six-seat Hatnuah party, promising Livni the Justice Ministry and control of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. To win a 61-seat majority he now needs to sign two of the next four largest parties—either Yesh Atid (with 19 seats), Labor (15), Jewish Home (12) or Shas (11). But under current conditions, any such combination is impossible, because no two parties have indicated any willingness to sit together. Here’s how the breakdown breaks down:
Stav Shaffir is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the leaders of Israel’s social protest movement to enter politics. Shaffir, a 27-year-old journalist, is vying for a spot on the Labor Party’s list for the upcoming January 22 elections.
In a video that friends helped her produce, Shaffir, recognizable to many by her long, bright red hair, legitimates the frustration of so many Israeli citizens that the summer 2011 protests failed to make an appreciable difference. But she also says that the next step is to effect change through the political process.
“Many of us have given up on politics,” she said. “But to give up on politics is to give up on our future.” She goes on to say, “This is our time. This is the time for work” — making a catchy pun by using avodah, the Hebrew word for work, but also the Hebrew name for the Labor party.
The Likud-Kadima agreement to form a unity government and cancel the early election makes all the sense in the world for Kadima. It’s arguably the smartest move by any Israeli peace advocate in a long time.
Newly minted Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who ousted Tzipi Livni in a primary upset just two weeks ago, inherited a party with 28 seats Knesset seats. It’s the largest bloc in the current house - one seat more than the Likud in the 120-seat legislature. But Kadima was headed for a crash in the coming snap elections. Polls showed Mofaz winning just 11 seats in September, the same as center-liberal newcomer Yair Lapid. Labor Party leader Sheli Yacimovich was polling at 18 seats (up from the 13 Labor won in the last election, which dropped to 8 after Ehud Barak’s defection). Thus the total center-left bloc was headed for 40 seats. Netanyahu was polling at a commanding 30 seats, and with Avigdor Lieberman pulling 15, plus assorted religious and far-right factions, Bibi was headed for a second term that would take him through 2016 essentially unchallenged.
By joining a unity coalition, Mofaz gives himself another year to build up a following and establish himself as an alternative to Bibi. From his perspective, his two rivals for leadership of the center-left, Yacimovich and Lapid, are not serious candidates. Both are former television journalists with little to no leadership experience and only the fuzziest familiarity with foreign and security policy. Mofaz is a former army chief of staff and former defense minister, active in civilian politics since 2003, highly regarded as a team leader, manager and policy wonk on domestic and security affairs. There have been talks in recent days about bringing the three together to form a joint list to oppose Bibi, but no agreement as to who would lead.
What specifically does tonight’s deal gain for Mofaz and Kadima?
The Israel Labor Party chose a new leader in a primary runoff on Tuesday. The winner, Shelly Yacimovich, is a former television news anchor whom polls show to have the most realistic chance of leading the battered party back to major-party status after a decade of what has seemed like terminal decline.
Yacimovich (ya-khee-MO-vitch) is a fiery, sometimes abrasive personality best known for her strong economic populism. She’s considered a moderate on the Palestinian issue, especially after an August Haaretz interview in which she infuriated the left by opposing boycotts and demonization of the settlements.
The latest polls show that Labor under her leadership would win 22 seats in the 120-member Knesset right now, up from the 13 seats it received in the last elections in 2009 (five of which bolted with Ehud Barak in January to form the pro-Netanyahu Independence Party). Most of those gains would come at the expense of Kadima, which would drop from its current 28 to 22, bringing it down to parity with Labor.
She is the first woman to lead Labor since Golda Meir in the early 1970s. She is also the first realistic contender for the Israeli prime ministership with a non-Hebraicized Galut family name. That sounds trivial, but it’s actually a serious moment of passage for Israel in its confrontation with the Jewish past, on which there will be more to say down the road.
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