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ISRAEL'S NEW PRIME MINISTER - ISAAC HERZOG?

If the campaign polls are right, Isaac Herzog may pull off a big upset over Bibi Netanyahu and go on to become Israel's new prime minister.

Israeli voters will cast their ballots on March 17th, and all the polls show Herzog leading Netanyahu by 24 to 21 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Herzog and Netanyahu (photo credit: Piotr Drabik - CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons) (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 What's been happening? It's the economy, stupid! For the first time, domestic politics has come home to roost for Netanyahu, who has focused his campaign on the Iranian nuclear threat, while housing prices and the cost of living have been going through the roof during Bibi's last six years in office. In his home stretch interviews Bibi has admitted that 'mistakes' have been made and he pledges to rectify them. But it may be too late. The far Right 'Jewish Home' party has also dealt Bibi a body blow by siphoning off voters from the Likud. (Paradoxically, a majority of Israelis think Bibi is better qualified than 'Buji' to be PM but they say they will still cast their ballots for Jewish Home or the religious parties).

 Meanwhile Herzog, of the former Labor party has teamed up with Tzipi Livni to form the new Zionist Union party that has gradually taken over the lead. Herzog has blamed Bibi for the current crisis with the Obama administration as well as the housing crisis that is bankrupting many middle class families. Moreover, Herzog has hauled Netanyahu over the coals for not doing enough to advance peace with the Palestinians. At the outset of the campaign, the mild mannered Herzog was not given a ghost of a chance against the brash Bibi, however, slowly but surely he has overtaken the incumbent.

 

The fact is Herzog has forced Bibi to take the defensive in the economic debate and admit his failures.

 A lawyer by training, the son of the late President Chaim Herzog served in the the IDF's vaunted 8200 intelligence unit rising to the rank of major. Going on fifty-five, the frontrunner looks younger than his age and has a high-pitched voice that he has been working on. In short, he is the exact opposite of Bibi; more like an Ed Miliband, the leader of Britain’s Labor party. Herzog, with Tzipi Livni in his corner, has been moving up from a lightweight to the heavyweight class and has proven more and more effective in slugging it out with Bibi. The fact is Herzog has forced Bibi to take the defensive in the economic debate and admit his failures.

 

 So on to the polls and what they may or may not foretell. On this score, they all happen to give the same ballpark numbers:

The Zionist Union and potential supporters of Herzog in the hurly burly coalition whatever the election result:
  • Zionist Union        24
  • United Arab List    13
  • Lapid               12
  • Kahlon              11
  • Meretz               6
Potential Netanyahu supporters:
  • Likud                21
  • Jewish Home          11
The religious parties and Avigdor Lieberman are up for grabs depending on how things go. The name of the game for them is to get on the coalition train before it leaves the station.
  • Shas                  7
  • Torah Judaism         6
  • Eli Yishai            5
  • Lieberman             4

 Remember: the vote on election-day is only the first step in a complicated procedure. The leader of the party that wins the most seats does not automatically become prime minister.

 

 Step 1: Choosing party leaders to form the next coalition…

Reuven Rivlin

 The state president Reuven Rivlin will then meet with representatives of all the parties that have won Knesset seats in the election. This is determined by the total number of ballots divided by 120, the number of Knesset seats. A minimum of 3.25% of the total votes is required by a party in order to receive Knesset representation; otherwise their votes are discarded from the total ballot. The party representatives will then inform the President which party leader,(Herzog or Netanyahu) they favor to form the new coalition government.

 

It is the President's prerogative to determine who has the best chance of forming a new coalition and call upon him or her to officially conduct negotiations with the other parties.

 After meeting with all these parties, the President will then decide which party leader has the best chance of forging a coalition. It usually is the party leader whose party has won the most seats but it doesn't have to be so. It is the President's prerogative to determine who has the best chance of forming a new coalition and call upon him or her to officially conduct negotiations with the other parties. Then the horse trading will begin in earnest for cabinet posts, chairs of Knesset committees, budget allocations and the whole panoply of governmental apparatus that changes hands when a new government takes office. The candidate for PM is given a fixed period of time to eke out a 61-seat majority.

 

 If Herzog winds up with 24 Knesset seats and Bibi with 21 in the 120-member parliament this is not a landslide by any stretch of the imagination. Bear in mind the all so true Hebrew saying that warns:

'Since the fall of the Temple the gift of prophecy has been granted to fools!'

 Nevertheless the time has come to look into the crystal ball and try to 'guesstimate' who President Rivlin will call upon to take first crack at cobbling together a new coalition. Although Rivlin is a former Likud stalwart and Land of Israel supporter, he is also a champion of democratic practice and fair play in politics. He is expected to play fair and square.

 

 Step 2: The blocking majority...

 The process of building a new coalition is an arduous and time-consuming exercise because all the various parties may have different and competing demands. Therefore, when the President consults with the various parties there is no way that a coalition will suddenly emerge. However, it will likely become more apparent as to which party leader has less chance of forming a coalition. So now let's take it one step further on the basis of the latest polls and what can be ascertained about where they will likely stand on Herzog and Netanyahu.

 

When it comes to economic issues Herzog and Kahlon see eye to eye and have been making the same pitch about 'the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer' on Bibi's watch.

 According to the pollsters, after the big two, the United Arab List will emerge as the next largest party and they will certainly not recommend Bibi; neither will former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who was fired by Bibi, recommend Netanyahu. Next is Moshe Kahlon, the former Likudnik who parted company with the Likud, charging that Bibi's capitalistic Likud had forsaken those low income Mizrachi Israelis who have been Likud's strongest supporters. When it comes to economic issues Herzog and Kahlon see eye to eye and have been making the same pitch about 'the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer' on Bibi's watch. There is a question about Kahlon's take on the Palestinian question.

 

Moshe kahlon (photo credit: dikla bassist shafrir - CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

 In the past, Kahlon has supported the Likud's Land of Israel ideology. During the current campaign, Kahlon has steered clear of this hornets' nest. (His second on the list, IDF (ret.) General Yoav Gallant let slip that Kahlon's first preference would be Herzog. The next day, Kahlon denied vehemently that this was the case. In Israel's coalition capers you never sell yourself cheap to any other party without the attendant quid pro quo. Moreover, many of Kahlon's prospective voters are former Likudniks who would be shocked if Kahlon does pick Herzog over Netanyahu. In any case, Kahlon is destined to become kingmaker and become next finance minister regardless of whether Herzog or Netanyahu form the next coalition government.

 

 Meretz on the far Left is definitely pro Herzog. But this party has been all over the polls, with some predicting it might not garner the required 3.25% of the entire ballot, which adds up to four seats in the Knesset. If Meretz fails to do so, Herzog could lose up to four Knesset seats in the coalition calculus, because Meretz votes would be stricken from the total tally.

The obvious conclusion is that Herzog has a better chance of cobbling a coalition. The religious parties total some 18 seats, but even if all went for Netanyahu, this would still not do the trick.

 

 Bottom line: if the polls are indeed accurate and this political fantasizing holds water, what remains after examining the possibilities is that Bibi will be faced with a blocking majority of some 66 in the 120-member Knesset. The obvious conclusion is that Herzog has a better chance of cobbling a coalition. The religious parties total some 18 seats, but even if all went for Netanyahu, this would still not do the trick.

 

 Proviso: Although a significant number of Likud loyalists have obviously told the pollsters they are fed up with the party, what will happen when these longtime Likudniks go into the polling booth? Will they actually follow through and vote for someone else? For many it will be like siding against their own families. Therefore, it remains to be seen what the outcome will be on March 17th. But what is certain is that it ain't over till it's over, including the coalition negotiations that will kick off after the election.

 

 

 

 David Essing

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