Is Netanyahu in Trouble?
Yesterday Howie pondered, "Did Boehner Lose Netanyahu His Reelection By Bringing Him To Washington?," and looked at the surprising reports coming out of Israel regarding prospects for the March 17 election. Meanwhile, the reports that Bibi may be in trouble already had our colleague GP pondering too. -- Ed.
Snapshot of polls by party just prior to Israel's 2015 election (source). Click to enlarge.
by Gaius Publius
It seems that the smooth-sailing-to-reelection predicted for Benjamin Netanyahu by Uri Avnery and others may have been premature. To recap, the Israeli election was neck-and-neck prior to Netanyahu's speech before the U.S. Congress. Many thought the image of Netanyahu putting the public wood to Iran's presumed U.S. supporters would swing voters into his camp and secure his return to office.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo says, maybe not:
Yes. Netanyahu is Suddenly in Real TroubleMarshall looks at possible causes and comes up with this (my emphasis):
... As we noted last week, the initial polls after the Prime Minister's speech to Congress painted an equivocal picture: perhaps a very small bump of support but one that seemed to subside quickly and still leave the Zionist Camp/Labor Party with the slenderest of leads. But over the weekend something changed.
Over the last three days a new raft of polls has been published which show ZC/Labor with a lead of between two and four seats over Likud. That is at the very outer range of the leads ZC/Labor [the "Zionist Camp"/Labor opposition] has had. But the trend has not been this pronounced in the past or with a group of polls all seeming to agree on the same movement. What's more, Likud's numbers clearly seem to be dropping in absolute terms. There have also been press reports — supported by my own reporting — that internal polls from the two major parties show a bigger gap than the public polls.
There are also signs of erosion, though still limited, for the entire center-right bloc — not just Likud, but the allied parties from which it would build a natural coalition.
It may simply be the heightened and not uncommon volatility that comes in the last days of an election when the mass of voters begin to really focus on the decision. Or it may be a rapid string of events coming at once undermining Netanyahu's credibility on his signature issue: security. J.J. Goldberg runs through three of them here. In short, a smashing critique of his rule by a former chief of the Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad; a botched commercial which some core Likud supporters believed was comparing them to Hamas; and then a leaked document about negotiations with the Palestinians.That's quite an apparent betrayal of principle. Read that last again — Netanyahu supports a something-like-two-state solution? The Greater Israel people must be freaking out.
The last is the most interesting. A document surfaced purporting to show that Netanyahu had discussed a far-reaching settlement with the Palestinians which would approach the kind of deal real two-staters endorse — something far more than he has ever suggested a willingness to consider publicly. First his campaign denied its authenticity, then it denied its implications. Then his campaign took back his original endorsement (albeit an extremely hedged one) of the two-state principle. Then it un-took it back. Kind of.
Marshall acknowledges the problems faced by Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the "Zionist Camp" opposition:
[T]here is still the very real problem of how Herzog would assemble a coalition. First, there is the problem which I discussed earlier of the likely non-inclusion of a dozen or more seats from the Joint Arab List. But on top of that, Herzog would likely need to find a way to bring a secular party (which is hostile to the special accommodations of the ultra-Orthodox) together with one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, and/or a viciously nationalistic party like Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu with the left-wing Meretz or even an Arab party, both of which would be very challenging.Coalition-building is always a special problem in a parliamentary system. Herzog faces a formidable challenge, but it's not insurmountable.
Avnery thinks the fate of the Middle East hangs on this election. He could be right. I'll bet Sheldon Adelson's control of Israeli politics hangs in the balance as well. And though that election could still go either way, in Marshall's estimation:
Netanyahu still has the upper hand in eventually forming the next governing coalition. But as the piece also notes, all the remaining unknowns seem to favor Herzog and his Zionist Camp/Labor Party.The election is March 17, just days away. Something to pay attention to, in my estimation.
How Elections Work in Israel
For those of you who can't get enough bracketology from our national March Madness, here's some background to help you watch what's about to happen in Israel.
As noted, Israel uses a parliamentary system, which means multiple political parties, seats allocated by proportion of votes gotten per party, and coalitions among non-majority parties in order to select officers who will "form a government." Israel also has something called an "electoral threshold," which allocates seats in the Knesset (their parliament) only to parties whose vote total exceeds the threshold. In Israel the threshold was recently raised from 2% to 3¼%, which some analysts took as an attempt to freeze out the small Arabist parties. In fact, it caused them to combine.
Here are the details, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Israel uses the closed list method of party-list proportional representation; thus, citizens vote for their preferred party and not for any individual candidates. The 120 seats in the Knesset are then assigned (using the D'Hondt method) proportionally to each party that received votes, provided that the party gained votes which met or exceeded the electoral threshold. Parties are permitted to form electoral alliances so as to gain enough collective votes to meet the threshold (the alliance as a whole must meet the threshold, not the individual parties) and thus be allocated seats. The low threshold makes the Israeli electoral system more favourable to minor parties than systems used in most other countries. Two parties can make an agreement so that both parties' sum of surplus votes are combined, and if the combined surplus votes amounts to an extra seat, then the extra seat goes to the party with the larger amount of surplus votes.Keep that number, 120 seats, in mind. Then look at the chart at the top of this piece. Since no party will reach 61 seats, the President (of the country) will select a party leader most likely to form a successful coalition, "successful" defined as "approved by a majority of the Knesset":
After an election, the President, following consultations with the elected party leaders, chooses the Knesset member most likely to form a viable coalition government. While this typically is the leader of the party receiving the most seats, it is not required to be so. In the event a party wins 61 or more seats in an election, it can form a viable government without having to form a coalition. However, no party has ever won more than 56 seats in an election; thus, a coalition has always been required. That member has up to 42 days to negotiate with the different parties, and then present his or her government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. Once the government is approved (by a vote of at least 61 members), he or she becomes Prime Minister.Presenting "his or her government" means naming his or her proposed cabinet officers and putting that list to a vote of the full Knesset. It's a fascinating process. What you should watch for (if you're watching closely):
- The March 17 vote totals by party
- What happens in the next 42 days, especially if Zionist/Labor wins
- Which parties get seats in the proposed coalition cabinet