Could a Netanyahu loss in Israeli Elections change Everything?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli polling is suggesting that Binyamin Netanyahu’s party might get only 21 seats or less in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, with his rivals, the Zionist Union, getting 24 or 25. There is even the possibility of the gap between the two widening and Netanyahu doing even worse.

The party that gets the most seats will have the opportunity to try to put together a government coalition of 61 seats or more– a majority that can survive a vote of no confidence.

Although Netanyahu tries to make the issue far-away Iran, which is bogged down in Iraq now, the Israeli public is on the whole not buying his scare-mongering. Economic issues like high rents and a growing wealth gap and undue influence of billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson on the Likud Part of Netanyahu all loom larger as issues than does Tehran.

The Palestinian-Israeli bloc, made up of what the Israelis call “Arab Israeli” parties and the Communist Party, now looks as though it could be the third biggest party. If the Palestinian-Israelis, who are 20% of the population, are able to do that well, they could well decide to back the Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, bringing the latter in striking distance of the 61 seats they need.

Netanyahu is portraying this outcome as disastrous for Israeli security.

But such a government might well be willing to settle the Palestine issue with Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestine Authority, pulling Israel back from the brink of declining into full Apartheid and international isolation. Livni has said she’d be willing to use police to remove some Israeli squatters from the Palestinian West Bank. Of course, that is a thorny and intractable problem and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters are a powerful lobby against peace, so there is no guarantee a new government can have more success than the old.

While Livni is no liberal (she would rotate the prime ministership with Herzog if they won), and will watch the negotiations with Iran like a hawk, she is in the end a pragmatist, and Obama would probably see an end to Israeli direct interference in his negotiations with Iran.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu wins, likely he will continue policies that make it unlikely for Israel to survive another half century in the region. Israel’s economy is fragile and a third of its trade is with Europe, with which Israel also has extensive technology transfer. Growing European boycotts over the Israeli scuttling of the peace process and determined colonization of the West Bank will begin to bite.


Related video:

Reuters from Thursday: “Israel’s Herzog takes election momentum to Tel Aviv market”

35 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    A good place for Livni to start might be in evicting the few hundred squatters from Hebron (Al Khalil) and restoring the vitality of this Palestinian town.

    • When it comes top greater Israel all governments left center or right one to continue expanding to the Jordan river. The Palestinians are better off if Netanyahu would win and the Europeans keep the pressure on. A herzog Livini win would remove the pressure and the net result we will get negotiations for the next 2 decades. I a rooting for Netnyahu !

  2. Adam Shah

    Netanyahu has so poisoned Dem/liberal & European support for Israel that I fear it’s too late to do much

    • No it’s not too late. For obvious reasons Germany is very hesitant to step up pressure on Israel. Quite likely that Herzog would get all the supports he needs from the EU.

  3. Regarding your point about economic factors in the election, Paul Krugman has posted a blurb, with supporting graph, in his blog today in which he suggests that Israel “may be the most unequal society in the advanced world, surpassing even the U.S.” He continues, “Goodbye kibbutz, hello Gilded Age.” link to

    • I was a volunteer on a kibbutz many many years ago … how naive of me … when the South African Jew stsying on thr kibbutz said that I shouldnt criticise apartheid if I hadn’t been to South Africa I should have seen the writing on the wall ….. fortunately I now have.

  4. “and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters are a powerful lobby against peace”

    Yes, the squatters/rightwingers tend to use the gun to “lobby”. See assassination of Rabin.

  5. A Netanyahu win might be better for the Palestinians since it would likely give BDS renewed impetus, particularly in Europe. On the other hand the Livni Herzog double act seems likely to maintain the status quo under the US umbrella of blather, duplicity and delay. However, anything that takes pressure off the Iran impasse and allows Europe to reconnect with its trade and culture is to be welcomed. People forget that everything they are not allowed to do with us, we are not allowed to do with them. It takes, as they say, two to tango.

    • “….the Livni Herzog double act seems likely to maintain the status quo…”

      Not exactly.

      Livni and Herzog will need the Joint Arab List parties and the leftist Meretz Party as coalition partners in order to form a government in the event Hatenua and Labor parties win enough seats in the March 17th election.

      It was the inclusion of the then-new Meretz Party in 1992 as a coalition partner with Labor Party that formed the impetus for the highly controversial Oslo Accords.

      If Zionist Union does do well in the election and is able to cobble together a ruling coalition – then the Joint Arab List and Meretz can simply withdraw from the coalition and allow a no-confidence vote if they feel that Herzog is going to simply drag his feet on final status negotiations with the Palestinians.

      The real possibility potential inclusion of Arab parties in a ruling coalition is unprecedented and would allow these parties to negotiate real political power in the Israeli political processes via appointment to influential cabinet positions.

      The last two centrist Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert – were hampered in their abilities to achieve significant inroads against gridlock in the peace processes since they had no leftist party inclusion in their respective governments – as Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres did when they negotiated the Oslo Accords.

      • What about Lapid? He’s gaining votes recently. I agree the Arab parties have unprecedented unity and leverage but how do the number add up?

        • Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party has declined in popularity since its initial surprise finish of 20 seats in the last Knesset election and is expected to receive maybe 12 seats in the upcoming election.

          Lapid had rallied against the privileges accorded the ultraorthodox and the decline of the Israeli middle class standard of living – but achieved little after joining the Likud-led coalition and causing Likud to dump the ultraorthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties as coalition partners.

          I see Yesh Atid and ultraorthox parties as wild cards who could either join either a Netanyahu or Herzog-led coalition. Lapid has had a very weak understanding of the Palestinian issue and the ultraorthodox party leaders have had divergent opinions on this issue.

          Given current polling numbers, it appears that if Netanyahu can persuade all other rightist parties to join him in a coalition – and can receive support from either the ultraorthodox parties or Yesh Atid (whose policies are widely divergent) – then he should be re-elected; however right now it is not clear if all other conservative parties will automatically bolt toward Likud in forming a coalition post-election. In sum, many variables exist which make the March 17th election largely unpredictable.

          One surprising result is that the criminal probe of the Israeli Attorney General of Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing party leaders that has resulted in a decline in the polling numbers of that party to about six projected Knesset seats would translate in those conservative voters switching to Likud – but Likud’s polling numbers have ben on the decline also.

      • Changing the status quo requires a solution acceptable to Israel and the Palestinians. Israel accepts no responsibility for the havoc it has caused the Palestinians while even liberal Jews imagine some future where they will retain much of what they have usurped, and something they vaguely envisage as ‘sharing’ the land with its owners, hard-liners want more. The US does not want yet another Arab nation in the area, particularly one that has been submerged in US duplicity for 60 years. Meanwhile the BDS movement wants Israel back behind its 67 borders and full rights of return. I do not believe any politician on either side is capable of bridging the gaps. The way I see it a Netanyahu win would generate a lot of negative energy which could well accelerate European support for BDS principles. On the other hand an alternative result would likely lead to efforts to undo the damage done to the US relationship over Iran. Once Iran takes its proper place in local and international affairs the whole picture changes, and in a more extended, slower and more peaceful way it also changes with regard to Palestine and its people.

        • “I do not believe any politician on either side is capable of bridging the gaps.”

          The only way this gap can be bridged is with tons of money. The international community has a massive interest in ending this seemingly eternal conflict. A fund with unlimited monetary firepower (something along the IWF special drawing rights) should be set up to develop the Palestinian economy, assuming they are willing to sign on to an agreement that Israel can live with. Also an international troop contingent needs to be set-up to provide them with cost-neutral defense capabilities and border security, in exchange for their agreement to forgo their own army.

          In short I am arguing to buy them off, but not on the cheap.

      • He may well wish to appear prepared ‘sincerely’ to try but isn’t that what they’ve all been doing for years? He’s a politician, if he tried such a thing unilaterally he’d likely be shot.

        • If Rabin’s fate taught us anything, he’d likely be shot anyhow. Whatever else you may think of him, it takes guts to even go there.

    • Hopefully you will be right …but somehow i think Herzog will disappoint your hopes ,as they’re a step or maybe a mile to high

  6. For those who see a Herzog/Livni win as big move in the right direction, see Gideon Levy’s article of Feb. 1, “A Labor win will only entrench the occupation” at .
    Realization that there is not that much difference between the two prospective ruling coalitions – except for images, with a Herzog/Livni government being conducive to damage control – likely is a reason a few Jewish moderates are talking about voting for the joint Arab list. Actually, the Levy article is only one example of a similar analysis.

  7. The most interesting storyline I see in all this is Obama and Kerry’s stated intention to make one more push for a peace process. Things seem to be going in their direction on that score…

    For anyone who’s interested, I take a look at that exact issue on my new blog on Middle East issues. You can find it at Comments welcome!

  8. It sounds like Israel has finally hit the crisis point where the hypocrisy behind the dictum “Jewish and democratic character” can no longer be hidden. The Right has to unite to keep the Arabs out of the government because that’s its last chance to go on a wholesale campaign to impose apartheid – and terrorize even leftist Jews into emigrating.

    Are the wild-card ultra-Orthodox parties known to be bribable? Because for Zionist billionaires the world over this is where all the checkbooks have to come out.

  9. Instead of starting a war with Iran, Bibi was really giving his farewell address when he spoke to Congress and received all those standing ovations. It doesn’t get any better.

    • You really shouldn’t call him that, he isn’t really all that fat, and then the term should be obese, really he is only slightly heavy set at most.

  10. It would be a welcome change if other parties were elected, and would be par for the course, given past history of Israeli elections.

    Furthermore, it would be great if the Arab parties were to take on a larger role. It remains to be seen what kind of party deals will be struck, though. If it does happen, there could be foreign policy repercussions too. Are our ‘wonks’ ready for it??

  11. “Israel elections: Benjamin Netanyahu says there will be no Palestinian state if voters back him: If Mr Netanyahu wins the election, his explicit rejection of Palestinian statehood will be another source of friction in relations with Washington” by Ben Lynfield – link to

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