Netanyahu, Likud Stand To Gain from Early Elections

Israel will  have an election on September 4, and polls indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party will be reelected to lead the government.

A recent poll by Yediot Ahronot and the Dahaf Institute suggests Likud would become the largest party, increasing its presence in the 120-member Knesset from 27 seats to about 30. The same poll shows the opposition Kadima Party, which recently chose former general Shaul Mofaz as its new leader, would suffer a drastic fall from 28 seats to only 10.

The splits among Likud’s other rivals also show a strengthening of the party. Labor, which has embraced social issues, would grow from eight seats to 18, while a new centrist party created by former journalist Yair Lapid called Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) would take 11 seats. The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party would shrink from 16 seats to 13.

If this poll proves accurate, Netanyahu will have a variety of options when it comes to forming a new coalition. Neither Kadima nor Labor nor Lapid’s party have ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. The prime minister might choose to construct a center-right government or a right-religious coalition of the type that currently exists, depending on the parliamentary arithmetic and his own preference.

The impetus for early elections is a disagreement between coalition members regarding reform to the Tal Law, which allows ultra-Orthodox Israelis to avoid military service. The law was recently struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court and will expire on August 1, requiring the Knesset to find some alternative law before then.

Disagreements over proposed reforms are the ostensible cause of rifts in the governing coalition. However, it is likely that coalition partners who want to have an election are simply using this issue as rationale to launch campaigns aimed at secular voters.

Several proposals have been formulated, the most significant coming from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. But by tightening up on ultra-Orthodox avoidance of military service, this proposal could lead religious parties to walk out of the coalition or at least to stop cooperating with their partners. Still, the government coalition retains a majority, and opposition no-confidence motions to be presented in coming weeks have no chance of passing. Thus, if elections are to be called it will be because key figures within the coalition have decided they want them.