Thursday, March 12, 2015

#IsraElex Final Predictions

This is a risky thing I attempt. We're more than 72 hours out from the election - the last round of pre-election Friday papers are just appearing on the web. I took the political self-mapping poll available at Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom and discovered to no surprise that I am more Meretz or United List than anything else.

But here goes:

Six weeks ago I predicted that Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. I stick by my prediction.

The party numbers don't matter. Even if the Zionist Union (formerly Labor) beats Likud by a 25-18 margin,  it won't make a difference. Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister. 

There is a reason I believe the odds-on favorite is a right/religious government led by Netanyahu. Let's imagine the alternative, a national unity government led by Isaac Herzog.

There is simply no way Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union can both win a plurality of seats (+7 or even higher over Likud) and then form a secular center-left government. Buji could form a national unity government with Likud, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - fighting a battle he never imagined when he forced these elections 5 months ago - preemptively rejected the overtures. As in 2009, but by a much thinner margin, Bibi lost the plurality and his Likud was the second largest party. But Bibi formed the government. So too in 2015.

The chances for a national unity government are much better for Netanyahu than for Herzog. If there is a national unity government, Netanyahu will be its Prime Minister. A national unity government which includes the ZU is the best conceivable outcome for keeping an Iran military operation off the table for the duration of the upcoming government. But such an outcome will have no impact on the current diplomatic stalemate with the two Palestines of HAMAS and the Palestinian Authority. More stalemate.

But what kind of national unity government? It is hard to imagine a secular national unity government. Much more likely, at least one of the religious parties, or some combination, will be in a national unity government. The biggest will be Naftali Bennet's Jewish Home party, which is holding at 11 seats. He was in the last government; he'll certainly be in the next. He's playing a long game.

But far more likely Netanyahu will form a government without the Zionist Union, without Meretz, and certainly without the Arab United List. After all, even if Likud loses by a 7 seat margin to the Zionist Union, it is not as if Likud's loss is Labor's gain. The voters slipping away from Bibi are slipping to the right.

Will Bibi rightfully claim the leadership mantle of the right bloc, even with a 2nd place Likud? Of course he will! Only if Likud somehow slipped to third would Netanyahu cede the mantle of the right.

Barring that, Netanyahu intends to construct a government without Tzipi Livni - an irritant - and, if possible, Yair Lapid - a real threat. He can likely rid himself from one of the two with ease.

What will be the surprise breakaway party of this election cycle? There are two newcomers, and they are both vanity parties - Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu and Eli Yishai's Yahad. Kahlon has a chance to outperform polling, currently tracking at 9 seats.

Might Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party become the comeback kid of the 2015 campaign? What if the surprise of the 2013 election is the surprise of the 2015 election?

This will take weeks to sort out. After the dust settles, this election will prove to have been nothing more than a pointless casino-fueled exercise, a slight rearranging of the chairs.

No problems solved, no new initiatives in foreign policy, no change in settlement policy or military posture, and most importantly - no American reset with Israel. 

Same as it ever was.

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