I’m lucky. My visit to Israel happened to occur the same time as the Israeli elections and I’ve had the great privilege of being part of the Election Day happening. And what exciting elections these turned to be.
For the non Israeli reader, a short clarification: Israelis do not choose the prime minister, rather they vote for their preferred party. The 120 seats of the Israeli Congress, the Knesset, are assigned in proportion to the number of votes the parties receive. The president chooses one of the new Knesset members, usually the head of the biggest party, to form the government. This member gets 42 days to form a government and have it approved in the Knesset. Since no party has ever had the majority of seats on its own, it is necessary to form a coalition of several parties to support the government. Once the Knesset approves the new government by a vote of confidence, the head of the coalition becomes the Prime Minister.
When I write this post, the final results are not available yet, but some of the winners and losers of this election have already been identified.
- Benjamin Netanyahua and his party the Likud Beiteinu –Netanyahu’s party still got the biggest number of seats, therefore he will probably be the next prime minister, yet the public clearly is disappointed by the Likud Beiteinu. Their new number of seats is estimated to be 31 vs. their current number of seats of 41. Why? Maybe because of the heavy taxation, the steep rise in cost of housing, and the Israeli public general unhappiness with the economical situation.
- Shaul Mophaz and his party Kadima – Final verdict if this party will have any representation in the new Knesset is still pending. For a party that was one of the biggest in the current Knesset – this is a huge fall.
- Yair Lapid and his party Yesh Atid, (There is a Future) – a new centrist party. For now it seems like this party will have the biggest number of Knesset seats after the Likud: 17. Yesh Atid campaigned for equal military service and a better economical future especially for the middle class. Yesh Atid supporters hope that Lapid will manage to bring about a change in the country, broadening the draft to all citizens, including religious yeshiva students who are now exempt.
- Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) – projected to gain 12 seats. The Jewish Home is a religious, nationalist party. Like Yesh Atid, they too have a strong, hopeful, economical message. Naftali Bennett is a high-tech millionaire and his message resonates with businessmen that feel like they keel over under the heavy burden of taxes. He also gives a very strong patriotic message. His victory speech started with heartfelt thanks to the Israeli soldiers and his call for them to “continue keeping us safe”. Then he proceeded to say, “Today we founded a new Home in Israel.”
In the US, the Presidential elections bring closure. When the president is elected the American nation has a pretty good idea what is the platform of the president-elect. In Israel, the elections kick-start a long and convoluted negotiations to determine the make-up of the government and its platform. Netanyahu will have to appease the new rising stars, especially Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid. At the same time, it is doubtful he can manage without some of his current allies, most notably the Shas party. Shas opposes to drafting Yeshiva students whereas Yesh Atid made the equal service one of the main issues on their agenda. If both parties are to be part of the coalition what will be the coalition’s combined stance about equal service?
Answers to this question as well as many others will only be revealed when the new government is formed.