Israel’s Interesting Election

So, Israel voted, Netanyahu and Likud stunned with a showing that was not great, but decidedly better than expected, and arguably better than last time (last time Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu formed a single list and got 31 seats, this time they got 32 between them running separately – 27 for Likud alone). Of course, no one wins an election in Israel in the traditional sense, so the real meat is in the coalition poker that follows. Israel’s president has the authority to designate which party gets the first go at forming a coalition, and Israeli law gives him a lot of latitude here. It doesn’t have to be the plurality winner, but rather the one that seems mostly likely to form a stable government.

Likud’s suprise showing makes them the easy pick. Not only do they have the most seats, but they have the easiest coalition-building job as well. Vox outlines the superficially most plausible solution: Likud rejoins their old Yisrael Beiteinu partners, picks up the two ultra-orthodox parties, and patches things up with Kulanu, a centrist party formed by a breakaway Likud minister.

Kulanu is the wrinkle, though. It exists as a party because its founder thinks Netanyahu is dangerous, that he ignores economic problems in favor of trumped up concerns about national security. The other parties will fall in line pretty easily; Kulanu will extract some blood.

But that’s simple enough, right? It’s not like Netanyahu is against economic growth and rebalancing, and it’s not like he has to offer the other potential coalition partners much in the way of promises since they’re unlikely to get offers they’re more comfortable with from the Zionist Union. So, he has a lot of latitude to offer Kulanu pretty much whatever it wants.

So is that it, then? A coalition of nationalist nasties, ultra-orthodox freaks, plus the Democrats?

Maybe. But Haaretz had an interesting suggestion: Kulanu should decline to form a coalition with Likud unless the Zionist Union is included, in effect forcing a national unity government.

It’s an interesting suggestion. At first blush, it doesn’t really sound plausible, since Kulanu would be a smaller fish in such a government than it would be in the broader right-wing alliance that Vox (and most observers) assume will be the outcome. But then take a closer look. That’s not really true. The Zionist Union and Likud have 27 seats each – not enough to cross the 61-member finish line by themselves. Kulanu’s percentage of either coalition is about the same (10 of either 64 or 63 seats), and the grand coalition is less complicated in the sense that there aren’t a lot of fussy tiny party members who can threaten to bring down the government over fringe issues. The Zionist Union and Likud may not agree on much, but two big partners negotiating on everything with a centrist referee seems like a more stable arrangement than a team of anklebiters with a coach (Likud) that has to run everything by the co-captain (Kulanu). Plus, forcing Likud into a coalition with the Union is exactly the kind of moderating drag on Netanyahu that Kulanu says it wants.

Netanyahu himself would obviously prefer the broader right-wing coalition, since it leaves him a relatively free hand on the security issues that are his bread and butter. So it really is a question of whether Kulanu has the moxie to force it. I don’t know enough about Israeli politics to make a real prediction here, nor do I know enough to have a real preference (from my distance, the Grand Coalition looks preferable, but I don’t have to live there, and there’s a reason Labor tanked – security issues are serious business in that country). But it is a very interesting situation for a political hobbyist to watch.

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