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The Israeli Elections

Israelis vote tomorrow to elect their new government. Mitchell Plitnick offers a preview of what to expect:

The Zionist Union stands a good chance of winning the most seats, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll lead the next Israeli government. They would need to form a coalition of at least 61 seats, preferably more (Israeli governments are very fragile things, and a small majority puts the entire coalition at the mercy of every small party it includes). That seems possible, but far from certain based on current polls, particularly because they are likely to shun a significant potential partner. It seems very likely that the Joint List, made up of Israel’s two largest Arab parties and the Jewish-Arab communist party, Hadash, will garner a significant number of seats, but no Israeli governing coalition has ever included Arab parties. Herzog and Livni seem unlikely candidates to buck that strong precedent. Even if they do so, it is far from certain that the Joint List would be willing to join any Israeli government. They have stated they would not, although a recent poll of Israel’s Arab population shows majority support for them doing so.

Of course, a lot can change in the days between the last major Israeli polls and the election. Israeli polls are notoriously fickle things. In 2013, the polls failed to predict the stunning success of the Yesh Atid party, for example. It is certainly possible that Likud could outpoll ZU. If it does, Netanyahu will have his own problems forming a coalition, but the field looks less complicated for him than it does for Herzog.

If the Zionist Union does come out ahead and can form a stable government, that should certainly reduce tensions between the U.S. and Israel in the short term. Repairing relations with Washington is likely to be a top foreign policy priority for Herzog, and so far what he has said about the Iran negotiations suggests that his government would at least be much less obnoxious about the issue. For one, it seems much less likely that a ZU-led government would criticize a deal or the administration in public. Herzog said late last year, “Even if we argue, we should do it in closed rooms.” If there is a ZU-led government, the disagreements with the U.S. will probably be much less severe, and they should also be much less visible than they have been under Netanyahu.

However, because the Zionist Union will have a more difficult time assembling a stable coalition, it is unfortunately all too easy to imagine another Netanyahu government despite the very poor Likud campaign. That result would mean at least two more years of worsening relations, which would include ongoing public efforts by the Israeli government to attack any nuclear deal. It will be taken as proof that there are no significant domestic political consequences for Netanyahu’s stunt, and it will be celebrated by hard-liners in both countries as a vindication of their confrontational approach. If for no other reason than to deliver both countries’ hard-liners a defeat, Americans should hope that this won’t be the result.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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