Continuing our series of election reports in conjunction with Electoral Studies, the following is a post-election report on the January 22, 2013 Israeli parliamentary elections from political scientist Reuven Y. Hazan of Hebrew University of Jerusalem; his pre-election report can be found here.
On 15 October 2012, the Knesset, Israel’s 120 member unicameral parliament, passed a bill to dissolve and to hold early elections on 22 January 2013, almost 10 months ahead of schedule. The main political issue that distinguishes between Israeli parties is security, as defined by their position on the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and on a land-for-peace formula in particular. The two main poles of the Israeli party map are thus the more ‘hawkish’ and the more ‘dovish’ ends. The political attention of Israelis is, therefore, dominated by security concerns. However, in light of the mass social protests that blanketed Israel in the summer of 2011, some argued that security concerns would be challenged by socio-economic factors in the campaign.
The campaign began with two announcements of party mergers. The Jewish Home and the National Union (the former a religious party and the latter the most hawkish party) decided to run together in the upcoming elections as the Jewish Home. Likud and Israel Our Home (the former the largest party in the hawkish camp and the leading party in the governing coalition, the latter an anti-clerical and rather hawkish party heavily supported by immigrants from the former Soviet Union), the second and third largest parties in the outgoing Knesset, announced that they would run together as Likud Our Home.
The latter merger created an imposing Likud Our Home joint list that came under attack from all sides: from the more hawkish Jewish Home, from the ultra-religious Shas, from the center by the newly formed There is a Future (Yesh Atid) and The Movement, and from the dovish Labour. In other words, there was more competition inside the hawkish camp then between the hawkish and dovish camps. Even figures outside the campaign, such as President Shimon Peres, the symbolic head of state, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made statements that attacked Likud and its leader, Prime Minister Netanyahu. The infighting was also true of the dovish camp, where Labour, the Movement and There is a Future criticized each other more than the parties on the other side of the main security divide.
After a rather lackluster campaign in which every poll showed Likud Our Home with a significant lead, and that the majority for the hawkish and religious blocs of parties would be either maintained or enlarged, the results were quite surprising.
The merger of the Jewish Home, which held 7 seats in the outgoing Knesset, was a success; the joint list earned 5 additional seats for a total of 12. The result for the Likud Our Home merged list was quite the opposite; they lost one-fourth of their voters, going from 42 to only 31 seats.
The center garnered much attention in the campaign. Kadima had imploded and new parties were created to fill the vacuum. Kadima went from being the largest party in the outgoing Knesset to being the smallest – dropping from 28 seats to only 2. Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni established her own center party called The Movement, which won 6 seats. Popular talk show host and news anchor Yair Lapid formed There Is a Future, which won 19 seats and was the surprise of the election.
On the dovish side, Labour increased its seats from 13 to 15 (although a split in 2011 had brought it down to 8), while Meretz doubled it seats from 3 to 6.
The three Arab parties, representing Israel’s largest minority, remained at 11 seats.
The hawkish camp, comprised of Likud Our Home and the Jewish Home together declined from 46 to 43. The ultra-religious bloc, made of up Shas and UTJ (United Torah Judaism) went from 19 to 18 [the 19 seats included the Jewish Home before it merged with the ultra-hawkish National Union]. Together, these two groups of parties had their majority of 65 of 120 seats reduced to 61 in the 2013 elections.
The center, which is now represented by three parties won 27 seats – Kadima with 2, The Movement with 6 and There is a Future with 19 – just one less than Kadima’s number of seats in the outgoing Knesset. The dovish camp, comprised of Labour and Meretz, went up from 16 to 21 seats. The Arab bloc of parties remained the same with 11 seats. Together, these three groups of center-left parties increased their 55 seats to 59 in the 2013 elections.
According to the law in Israel, after the official results are announced by the Central Elections Committee the President consults with the leaders of all of the parties who won representation and ascertains who they think is most likely to form a governing majority. The President then appoints someone to form a majority. Despite its significant loss of seats, no party came close to the merged Likud Our Home, which means that Benjamin Netanyahu is the only party leader capable of forming a majority government.
Netanyahu has several quite different options for forming a majority. He can build a hawkish-religious government with the support of the two hawkish parties and the two ultra-religious parties, for a slim majority of 61 of 120 seats in the Knesset. This will made Likud Our Home the most moderate party in government on both the hawkish and the religious dimensions. Alternatively, Netanyahu can form a hawkish-center-dovish majority with There is a Future and Labour, for a total of 65 seats. This option will make Likud Our Home the most extreme of the governing parties on the security dimension. The more likely option is that Likud Our Home will bring in coalition partners from both the more hawkish and the more dovish sides, making it the pivot of any governing majority. The Jewish Home from the hawkish camp, and There is a Future from the center, would together with Likud Our Home have 62 seats. Other parties from either side could also join. The interesting aspect of this alternative is that with major differences between these three parties on security issues, their focus could shift to where they have common ground – internal social and economic policy.
In the 2013 elections the Israeli electorate showed its dissatisfaction with Netanyahu and Likud, but not enough in order to oust them. The new government, which will be formed in late February or early March, will be headed by a damaged and diminished Netanyahu and Likud.