A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Weakened Right, Strengthened Center with Hard Bargaining Ahead

Exit polling (not, at this time, official results) suggests that while Netanyahu's Likud is still the largest party in the Knesset and thus he will likely form the next government, the right has been much weakened. Likud is forecast to win only 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, down from 42 in the outgoing Knesset. Yair Lapid's new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party is forecast to be the second largest party with 18 or 19 seats. More importantly, if the exit polls hold up, the right wing and Orthodox religous parties will command, at best, 61 seats, with the center and left holding 59: a nearly split Knesset.

Coalition building is never that simple in Israel, and a seat or two difference in the final results might even make it possible for the left to block Netanyahu or limit him to a weak, unstable coalition. His own Likud Beitenu now includes the rabid secularists of the former Yisrael Beitenu, who favor policies anathema to the religious parties.

Yair Lapid
Lapid looks to be the kingmaker here. He can join Likud in a strong center-right coalition or join the left in blocking that. His party may have a dozen fewer seats than Netanhyahu's but he is the real winner in this election since both sides will be wooing him, and he's likely to drive a hard bargain. His party favors military service for all Israelis, ending the exemption for Yeshiva students, which will not sit well with religious coalition partners.

At this point, though, a caution: that 61-59 split is so close that if the exit polls differ from the actual results by only a seat or two, all bets are off. Stay tuned

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