Is this Netanyahu’s final month in office?

I am usually completely wrong about predicting election results but there are certain trends in polling for the Israeli elections (which happen in another month) which may be of interest.  Taking the long view — comparing polls today to what they were showing a year ago — gives us a indication of trends which may (but also may not) continue in the next month.  Here are some of the more interesting ones:

The right wing alliance headed up by Netanyahu has lost much of its strength.  A year ago, the two parties (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu) were polling at 45 seats (out of 120 in the Knesset).  This would have represented a gain of 3 seats over the 42 they won (separately) in the last elections.  The latest polls I’ve seen show them at 36 – in other words, a drop of 9 seats, or 20%, in just a year.

Kadima will disappear.  Like so many large centrist parties that have come before it (Dash in 1977 was the first), Kadima was never destined to have a long life as Israeli voters return in large numbers to the traditional parties.  Polls a year ago showed Kadima winning 19 seats.  Today, it’s at 0 (zero).

Kadima’s voters have defected to two new parties – Yesh Atid and Hatnuah.  These two together, in the lastest polls, have 20 seats.  So that’s where the Kadima voters have clearly moved to — instead of to the parties of the left.

The major left wing parties — Labour and Meretz — have stalled.  A year ago, they polled at a combined 22 seats; today they’re at 23.  That’s not much of an improvement, but not bad considering the defection of at least one major figure (Amir Peretz) to a new party (Hatnuah), and the appearance on the political map of several new parties competing for the vote of the pro-peace center.  Holding their own in this environment is not a bad thing.

Polls of Arab and Haredi voters are almost impossible to do accurately — and no one can begin to guess what turnout will be like.  At the moment, polls are showing 10 seats for the 3 “Arab” parties (the largest of which, Hadash, is actually a Jewish-Arab party).  This is pretty much what they got in the last Knesset elections (11), so it looks more like a guestimate than actual scientific polling.  If any of the Arab parties are blocked from running — and both UAL and Balad are under threat — votes could shift toward Hadash.  Were Hadash to reap the benefits and walk away with 10 mandates (unlikely, but possible), it could be third largest faction in the Knesset.

Shas is not necessarily a coalition partner only for the right.  Polls continue to show a strong result for the Sephardic party – 11 seats instead of the 10 they won last time.  Remember that the Rabin government formed in 1992 had Shas (and Meretz) as coalition partners.  That coalition held together for several years, allowing the conclusion of the Oslo process and the first rays of hope for peace in the region.  Shas could be wooed again into a post-election coalition with parties of the center and left.

So, is a government not headed by Netanyahu possible?  Yes, it is.

Here’s one possible scenario — Labour and Meretz form the government with 23 seats, in coalition with the two new centrist parties which get 20 seats.  They are supported by 11 seats in the Arab parties and invite Shas into the government with its 11 seats.  That’s 65 seats — denying a majority to Netanyahu and sending him off to the political wilderness where he belongs.

A slightly more optimistic scenario shows the left, center and Arab parties getting 10% more than polls currently show — so instead of 54 seats, they get 59.  Then they find partners in some small partners – e.g., Am Shalem, now polling at 3 seats, and don’t even need Shas.  That would give them 62 seats, which is a majority, albeit a very small one.

Yes, the most likely scenario is that Netanyahu pulls together a coalition, but it’s not inevitable.

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