Wednesday, January 15, 2003
More on the Israeli elections: a new Ha'aretz poll shows Likud up to 30 seats again (from 27) and Labor down to 20 (from 24). They haven't released the whole poll yet, but the summary does say that Shinui was down 2 seats (to 15) and Shas down 1 seat (to 12). This move is described as a "surge" for Likud and the "collapse" of Labor, as the spread between the two went from 3 seats to 10.
But without looking at the full poll, it's impossible to tell what's going on. From Jan 2 to Jan 9, the Center-Right bloc of Likud-Yisrael B'Aliyah dropped 5 seats while the Center-Left bloc of Labor-Meretz gained only 1 seat. The other 4 seats went to Shinui, Shas and National Union. In other words, what was going on was not a surge to the Left but the crack-up of the Center-Right into its factional constituents.
So what is happening now? 3 seats have come out of Shinui/Shas and 4 seats have come out of Labor. But Likud is only up 3 seats. Where are the other seats?
We'll find out when we see the full poll. But my suspicion is that the polls will show an up-tick for Meretz and/or the Arab parties. Why? Because the only plausible explanation for Mitzna's recent antics - categorically refusing to join a Sharon-led government, no matter what the coalition terms - is that internal polls by Labor showed Labor support slipping to Meretz or that Labor was not getting enough Arab votes. If Mitzna believed that he was losing votes to the Far Left because voters assumed that Labor would join a unity government after losing the election, then it would make sense to appeal for those votes by declaring that Labor would never do so. Even if the Left bloc in total didn't grow, if Labor thereby managed to edge out Likud in total number of seats, Sharon would probably be deposed and Labor would probably get to pick the Prime Minister - or at least rotate the PM job - in a National Unity government. (Mitzna said he would not join a government headed by Sharon, not that he would never form a government with Likud.)
So I suspect this is what the full poll will show: an uptick in Meretz and/or the Arabs, and therefore a very modest decline in the Left Bloc as a whole (1 or 2 seats), a pickup of a couple of seats in UTJ and National Union, and possibly a 1 seat pickup by YBA. Then the next round of polls will show how well Mitzna's tactic worked in pulling the Left back together.
Labor is very, very weak. But Likud is not strong. There is no Likud "surge" - this poll doesn't even put Likud back to where it was on Jan 2. Back on December 12, when Likud was polling 41 seats, Likud could have formed any of a number of narrow coalitions: they could have played Shinui off against the Haredim; they could have divided the Far Right by trying to detach the NRP as it did in the last government; they could have reached out to Labor and formed a National Unity government without *any* small parties. They have nowhere near that kind of projected strength today.
The Likud is suffering badly from the public perception - a rightful one - of serious rot and structural weakness. And Israeli democracy itself continues to show its profound structural weakness.