Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Okay, we now have the almost-final tallies. Sharon has made it clear that he will not form a right-wing government; that he would rather go for new elections instead. Which strikes some people as odd. But it shouldn't be. After all, Sharon could theoretically have formed a right-wing government before these elections. Here's what it would have looked like:

Likud: 21
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 4
Center Party: 3
Gesher: 2
Shas: 17
United Torah Judaism: 5
National Religious Party: 5
National Union: 7

TOTAL: 64 seats out of 120

Since Sharon would not form this coalition before the election, why would he do so now after going through the election?

Moreover, a roughly similar coalition would not look much bigger today:

Likud: 37
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 2
Shas: 11
United Torah Judaism: 5
National Religious Party: 5
National Union: 7

TOTAL: 67 seats out of 120

A three-seat gain doesn't look like such a landslide for the Right.

Of the various coalitions Sharon could have formed after Labor walked out, the right-wing coalition was the only one pre-election that would have had a majority. Now, Sharon has three possible coalitions without Labor: a coalition with Shinui and the far-right without the Haredi parties; a right-religious coalition; and a coalition with Shinui and various small parties of Left, Right and Center but without National Union.

If we look at how the right-of-Likud parties did, moreover, it's even clearer that this election was about many things, but not a vindication of the far-right. I think you could count 5 parties as arguably to the right of Likud: Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shas, National Religious, National Union, and Herut. Here's how this coalition fared:

Yisrael B'Aliyah --------- was: 4 --- now: 2 --- change: loss of 2 seats
Shas ------------------------ was: 17 --- now: 11 --- change: loss of 6 seats
National Religious ------ was: 5 --- now: 5 --- change: none
National Union ----------- was: 7 --- now: 7 --- change: none
Herut ------------------------ was: 1 --- now: 0 --- change: loss of 1 seat

TOTAL ---------------------- was: 34 --- now: 25 --- change: loss of 9 seats

Of course, the Zionist Left also suffered a dramatic drop, going from 37 seats (25 for Labor, 10 for Meretz, 2 for Democratic Choice) to 25 seats (19 for Labor, 6 for Meretz), a loss of 12. But this is a long-term, secular trend that has been going on all through the 1990s.

People think the 1999 elections were about the triumph of Labor. But Labor lost seats in that election, going from 34 to 26 mandates. The basic Likud coalition, meanwhile, barely lost seats. As noted, a right-wing government would have had a majority in the 15th Knesset, which was the Knesset elected in 1999. But this coalition had been SMALLER in 1996, after Netanyahu's victory:

Likud alignment: 32 (includes Tsomet and Gesher)
Shas: 10
National Religious Party: 9
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 7
United Torah Judaism: 4

TOTAL: 62 seats

Throw Moledet in for another 2 and you have no change in the size of the right-religious coalition from the heights of 1996 to the lows of 1999. And only small gains from the lows of 1999 to the heights of 2003. You can even go back further; in 1992, the right-religious coalition of parties won 59 seats out of 120. In the year of the Left's triumphant return to power, a coalition of right-leaning parties was 2 seats short of a majority.

Of course, parties in what I'm calling the right-wing coalition have been willing to join in coalition with Labor. The Haredi parties want to be a part of every government. (The National Religious Party used to as well, before it moved rightward.) Yisrael B'Aliyah is a mostly centrist party that has gotten more right-wing on security and settlements; Shas used to be mildly dovish and focused exclusively on religious and social welfare matters. When the Labor Party has won the biggest share of seats, it has been able to pull together a coalition by including some elements of what I'm calling the right-wing coalition, and that's not surprising. But the basic point stands: there is a basic right-wing coalition of parties that has had a majority or barely short of a majority of MKs since 1977. And this coalition has had a larger number of MKs than the Zionist left for the same period, or possibly longer.

Likud expands and contracts at the expense of its partners in the right-religious camp. The camp itself has been increasing, slowly, even when Likud has fallen back. Labor, meanwhile, has been undergoing a progressive collapse: from 44 seats in 1992, to 34 in 1996, to 26 in 1999, to 19 in 2003. When you combine them with Meretz, the collapse since 1992 is even more dramatic: 56 to 43 to 36 to 25. The Zionist left, the parties associated with Oslo, have lost more than half their seats since 1992. And they've been losing them steadily, in every election.

The ultimate "meaning" of this election depends on what Shinui turns out to be. It attracted centrists who oppose the division of Jerusalem, oppose negotiation under fire, and support a tough line on terrorism - but who would be open to unilateral moves to end the conflict or a negotiated creation of a Palestinian state under the right circumstances. Whether it pulls a substantial number of left-leaning voters into a center-right position, or whether it migrates to the left to keep these voters - whether it becomes a partner for Likud to replace Shas, or the voice of the Ashkenazi middle class to replace Labor, or whether it fizzles like many protest parties before it - will determine whether this election really was a sea change, or just another reshuffling of what has been basically the same deck.