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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Arlene Kushner on Implications of Israel Elections For Netanyahu (Part I)

January 23, 2013:
Bibi Blew It

Oh, PM Netanyahu's joint Likud-Beitenu list secured by far the most votes in yesterday's election, and it is expected that he will form the next coalition and continue in his
role as head of the government.

But the election results could have been sooo much better. The counting is not quite over (soldiers' votes are being counted), and so there may be a shift of a mandate (seat) or two, but right now this is the line-up:

Likud-Beitenu: 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid): 19
Labor: 15
HaBayit Hayehudi (Naftali Bennett): 11
(reports say this may move to 12, meaning a reduction elsewhere)
Shas (Sephardi Haredi): 11
United Torah Judaism -- UTJ (Ashkenazi Haredi): 7
The Tzipi Livni Party: 6
Meretz: 6
Kadima: 2
Combined Arab parties: 12

This puts the right-religious wing in a dead heat with the centrist-left wing. Or so says the media, but since the Arab parties are never part of the coalition, the right-
religious wing has greater numbers, and Likud-Beitenu remains at the top of the list, by far.

The big shockers are that Likud-Beitenu only got 31 and not the 42 that had been predicted when Likud and Yisrael Beitenu merged their lists some time ago, or even
the more recent predictions of 35.

Similarly Habayit Hayehudi had been "predicted to have 14 or more mandates, so the current number is low for this party, as well.

Although...on the other hand, this
represents a huge gain over the three seats Habayit Hayehudi had last time around. Then it functioned as the "New National Religious Party" (modern, nationalist religious), but now Bennett, emphasizing unity and a home for all, has broadened its base, so that the party has become a player of consequence.

The left wing parties aren't happy. Their numbers are low.

Who's happy? Yair Lapid, whose party has now garnered far more votes than anyone ever thought possible. Yair Lapid today is something of a king-maker.

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When I say that Bibi "blew it" -- in terms of what might have been possible -- I have several factors in mind:

First was his decision to merge Likud's list with that of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu. Seems in the end that there were Likud voters disgruntled with Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu voters disgruntled with Netanyahu. The net result of this was a loss of voters to other parties. In the last election, these two parties, running independently, garnered a total of 42 mandates.

And then there was the abysmal campaign that Likud ran. I have good information from inside the Likud organization that the planning for a grassroots campaign -- which was standard in the past -- never took place this time, much to the distress of activists who wanted to be involved. I can only assume that this was as a result of misplaced complacency.

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But there's more, in terms of campaign errors. The most serious, in my mind, was Netanyahu's attack on Bennett, and the more general attack by Likud on Habayit Hayehudi. I criticized it, as it was happening; it was wrong. The campaign rhetoric should have been directed against opponents on the left, not against Likud's natural ally. What Netanyahu did was weaken Bennett -- which was clearly his intention. However, it is not at all clear that those he drove from voting for Habayit Hayehudi then reverted to Likud -- which would have been the culmination of what he sought.

MK Uri Orbach of Bayit Yehudi has a theory. He says that young voters, tired of the old political re-runs, were looking for a new face. The two possibilities that presented themselves were Bennett and Lapid. As Likud criticized Bennett as too radical, not supportive of women, and whatever other nonsense, the young voters moved over to Lapid. It is plausible.

Add to this the fact that Netanyahu did not campaign clearly on the issues, or even seriously explore the issues in the course of the campaign. He spoke about his experience, and presented himself as the only one equipped to lead the nation. But he did not talk in specifics about what he intended to do during a new term.

Continued in Part II

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