Take your partners

Despite having just 20% support, Netanyahu will almost certainly remain prime minister, and coalition forming is underway. The only surprise is Meretz.

Five days before election day, the battle looks as though it is over. Even the longest serving party hacks cannot remember such a soporific and predictable election campaign. It is still not clear what Arthur Finkelstein was on when he promised Likud Beytenu 45 seats, but what is certain is that, with 34 seats in his pocket, Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, according to the latest poll by Rafi Smith for "Globes". On the other hand, the poll shows that Netanyahu has the support of 20% of the public. That's something else no-one can remember for a prime minister here.

This is the last poll that will be published before the election. Something very dramatic would have to happen for it to be proved entirely wrong. The politicians, their aides and hangers-on, just want to get it over with. Everyone understands what's going to happen, as do the voters. If election day is as spring-like as we have been promised, many of them will prefer a cafe or the beach.

Coalition negotiations have already begun

The election campaign cannot yet be finally summed up, but the trend between the blocks is clear, and the only question that remains open, apart from the question of what on earth this election has been about, is what kind of prime minister Netanyahu will be and who his partners will be around the cabinet table. The coalition that Netanyahu would prefer is one made up of his traditional partners, Habayit Hayehudi and Shas. Despite the bad blood between Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, they both realize that they don't have much choice. With Bennett on 13 seats and Likud Beytenu on 34, there is no room for deliberation. In Likud, incidentally, they believe that at the moment of truth, in the voting booth, wayward Likud voters will come home and boost the party's tally to 36-37 seats, and that the soldiers' votes will add one or two more.

Bennett, however, has not had a good week, and has dropped one seat. His remark about a terrorism course and Sara Netanyahu, which she may not have found as humorous as he did, sounded childish, and highlighted the young party chairman's inexperience. He's charismatic, but not mature. Despite all that, Shas (which will join forces with United Torah Judaism) and Habayit Hayehudi will be Netanyahu's anchor for one simple reason: Netanyahu is paranoid, and will not allow himself to be dependent on anyone who seeks to replace him.

With a romance blossoming behind the scenes between Likud and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, which is on the rise (11), with a view to the latter joining the next government, it's already fairly clear what that government will look like. Anyone who has paid attention to Lapid and Netanyahu's public utterances over the past month, and the latter's sudden emphasis on equal sharing of the burden, can bet that it's a done deal.

Lapid denies that there have been meetings, agreements, and liaison, but it can be presumed that the good friends Uri Shani (for Lapid) and Gideon Sa'ar (for Likud) have sewn up the details between them. Netanyahu's former bureau chief Natan Eshel saw to the pact with the haredim. Kadima too has received very broad hints that, if it is big enough, Shaul Mofaz will have a place in the government, despite the episode of his entry into and quick exit from the present administration.

Meretz surprises

Kadima didn't know what to be more happy about this morning: the improvement of its standing in the polls, or the fact that Tzipi Livni's Hatenuah is in sharp decline. If Kadima strengthens and Livni weakens further, there will be those who will see it as poetic justice. Meanwhile, Livni is nosediving (7) and Meretz (6) is taking off. If there is one surprise in this election, Meretz is it.

If you look at voting trends in the under-30 age group, you find a no less surprising figure: the 18-30 year olds mostly support Habayit Hayehudi and Likud Beytenu. After that come Yesh Atid and Labor, in that order. Livni doesn't exist in this age group.

Kadima too could yet strengthen at Livni's expense. Mofaz, who has learned to smile, has been appealing to the gut feelings of the Sephardim, which is just the opposite of what has happened in Livni's campaign. She calls for peace and speaks of hope. These days, no-one believes that there will be peace, and there is certainly no hope.

There could still be changes among the small parties. The question is how far the buzz on the social networks will translate into votes. At the moment, the best chance of beating the minimum vote threshold lies with Oztma L'Israel and Am Shalem, which is campaigning for the votes of traditional Jews but is also appealing to secular voters. If any small parties do make it into the Knesset, they will probably do so with three seats rather than two, which will mean one or two fewer seats for some of the larger parties.

A Yachimovich-Bennett axis

In 2006, then Labor leader Amir Peretz tried to form a government under his leadership to outflank Ehud Olmert. In the end, the attempt failed. For all the hostility between them, there are things that Shelly Yachimovich has learned from Peretz, and she is now trying to repeat the same scenario. In the past couple of weeks, she has shrunk from the diplomatic issue as from fire, and there are those who believe that she is thus sending signals to Naftali Bennett. These are the surface signs. Beneath the surface, there are contacts, meetings, and talks.

The unlikely scenario of Yachimovich forming a government can only be realized if she joins up with Bennett. It's no secret that she has understandings with the haredim, and an excellent basis for long-term ties. Assuming that both Lapid and Livni recommend to the president that he should invite her to form a government, with the addition of Bennett the government is hers. There remains just one small matter: she has to persuade Bennett to recommend himself or a government of national unity. President Peres is just waiting for the moment. True, it's improbable, but if there is the tiniest chance of its happening, Yachimovich will do all she can to make it happen.

Poll results

The results show the projected number of seats for each party according to the current survey, followed by the number of seats in the previous survey on January 10, and, in parentheses, the number of seats in the current Knesset.

Likud-Beytenu 34, 34 (42)
Labor 17, 18 (13)
Habayit Hayehudi 13, 14 (7)
Shas 11, 10 (11)
Yesh Atid 11, 10 (-)
Hatenuah 7,8 (-)
United Torah Judaism 6, 6 (5)
Meretz 6, 4 (3)
Hadash 4, 4 (4)
National Democratic Assembly 4, 4 (4)
Ra'am-Ta'al 3, 3 (3)
Kadima 2, 2 (28)
Otzma L'Israel 2, 0 (-).

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 17, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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