Monday, September 23, 2002
Well, this is actually news: four Israeli far-right parties are considering running on a unified slate. Why is this news? Because Israel is back on the old one-ballot proportional rep law as of the next election. No more splitting ballots for Prime Minister from ballots for the Knesset, which encouraged the growth of small, single-issue parties in the past. If a solid bloc is forming on the right, that means three things: (1) Likud becomes the clear centrist party in the Knesset; (2) the right has a better chance of winning substantial representation (no dilution from the competition of multiple voices); which in turn means (3) that Likud is not going to get the solid right-wing votes it needs for a massive Knesset victory; all of which means (4) that Sharon is going to have an interesting choice to make post-election.
I think it's safe to say that Likud will be the largest party in the next Knesset. But if there is a 20-seat party to its right (the combined slates of National Union, National Religious, Yisrael Beiteinu and Moledet, which currently number 13 seats but are surely going to gain, particularly if they run together), then Likud will probably get less than 40 seats itself. Now it has to form a coalition. Likud plus the ultra-Orthodox parties might constitute a government. But now it needs another party. Will it be a unified far-right party? That would have serious negative diplomatic consequences, given that this party will likely run on a platform of "transfer." The alternative, however, is Labor, which will surely get fewer than 20 seats in the next Knesset but will still be a reasonably large party, probably the #3 party in the Knesset after Likud and the right-wing slate. Choosing Labor would pull Likud further to the left, and strengthen both the far-left (since many Labor voters will be disgusted by the continuity of the coalition with Likud and Shas, and will bolt for Meretz or Shinui) and the far-right (who will lead the opposition).
A lot can happen between now and the next elections, of course. The Iraqi campaign could change the whole map of the region, for example. But barring a dramatic change in the landscape, I'd say that a union of the right would do quite well, would result in a clear identification of Likud as the mainstream party, would likely result in another Likud-Labor-Shas coalition and the further disintegration of Labor as a party, and will set things up for the NEXT election as a right-wing referendum. Because if a united far-right is out of power, and things go badly on the security front, they will, for the first time, have the opportunity to take a serious case to the Israeli voter that radical solutions are called for.
I wonder how many Hebrew University professors understand all that.
By the way, I do not think that Yisrael B'Aliyah will run on a united slate with the likes of Moledet. I think it's far more likely that they will run on a united slate with Likud.
The other interesting by-the-way is what Shas does. They risk a major loss of votes in the next election, because their current representation is way out of proportion to the actual number of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox in Israel. They get all this extra support because they are a populist, "ethnic" party that delivers for their voters, and because in the last election there was a groundswell of support for then-party leader Arieh Deri in the context of his trial on corruption charges. None of these factors will be primary in the next election. So what will Shas do when the date comes around? What kind of arrangement might they work out with Likud, for example, to assure a significant role for the party in exchange for unqualified support for the government on the government's top objectives? Watch these two tigers, Likud and Shas, circling each other warily as we approach the election date: each has a strong incentive to convince their voters that, on the one hand, they are natural coalition partners, but on the other hand that voting for the "wrong" of the two parties would be a tragic mistake that would hurt the country.