Israeli Election Update: Netanyahu Likely to Remain Prime Minister

The most recent Channel 1 News election poll was released Friday, showing the following likely results in the upcoming March elections: 

Likud – 26 seats

HaMachane haTziyoni (Labor and HaTenu’a) – 24 seats

HaBayit haYehudi – 15 seats

Joint Arab List (the two Arab parties & Chadash, Israeli Communist Party) -- 11 seats

Shas – 9 seats

Yahadut haTorah – 8 seats

Yesh ‘Atid – 8 seats

Kullanu – 7 seats

Yisrael Beytenu – 7 seats

Meretz – 5 seats

The rump of Kadima -- former party of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni -- vanishes from the scene, and the new Sephardic religious party, Ha‘Am Itanu, fails to make the threshold in this poll. Assuming that the results are accurate, Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to be returned as prime minister provided that he can form a stable governing coalition of at least 61 seats. It is hard to see how he gets there without brining in the non-Zionist religious parties Shas and Yahaduth haTorah.

In other election news, former nationalist MK Dr. Michael ben-Ari has launched a right-wing party called "Otzma Yehudit" (“Jewish Power”) in a bid for the Knesset. Though recent polls (such as the one cited above) do not show the party passing the threshold of 3.25 seats necessary to enter the Knesset, they do show that if his party were to join with the new Ha‘Am Itanu party the joint list would easily get 4-5 seats. However, so far such a merger does not seem likely as Ha‘Am Itanu co-founder Yoni Chetboun cast cold water on the idea. This is despite that fact that earlier Dr. ben-Ari had expressed a willingness to run together, even meeting with the new party’s rabbinical advisor, Rabbi Meir Mazuz.

Reports indicate that the meeting did not go well. Rabbi Mazuz reportedly stated that Ha‘Am Itanu is particularly interested in entering a coalition with Likud in order to secure funding for affiliated yeshivoth, while Dr. ben-Ari indicated an unwillingness to join a coalition unless certain ideological red lines are set, such as a refusal to release imprisoned terrorists, refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, and refusal to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, Yehuda, and Shomron. The outgoing coalition under Likud leadership did all of these things.

Binyamin Netanyahu has scotched rumors that Likud would run a joint list with HaBayit haYehudi, after polls indicated that the two parties would win 37 seats if they ran together, less than the 41 indicated (for example) by the present poll. Similar rumors suggesting that Moshe Kachlon’s new party, Kulanu, would run jointly with Yesh Atid have similarly been squelched. Though Lapid is said to have approached Kachlon about running jointly, it appears that ideological differences -- Kachlon is more capitalistic in his approach to economic issues than is Lapid -- have prevented the merger from coming about.

The Arab parties have decided to combine with the Israeli Communist (“Chadash”) party in order to run a joint list. The only dissenter was present Ra’am-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi, who has decided to run alone as a one-man party. As the present poll indicates, he is not expected to do well, not least because current Israeli law requires a party to win enough votes for 3.25 seats in order to pass the threshold and enter the Knesset, and so far Tibi is the only man on his list.

Finally, Aryeh Der’i has responded to pleas from many of his supporters within Shas and agreed to continue to lead the party. He had resigned from his Knesset seat earlier this month, and was said to have tried to resign from the party chairmanship, but his resignation had been rejected by the party’s rabbinical governing body, the Mo’etzet Chachmei haTorah (“Council of Torah Sages”). This is considered good news for Shas, which has been foundering in the polls. The current Channel 1 poll still shows the Sephardic party losing two seats, dropping from 11 to 9.