The first polls since the merger of Israel’s ruling Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties have been released over the weekend, suggesting that at best the Likud-Beiteinu list is going to stay flat on seats, and may even lose a handful of seats in the January vote.
This is shocking, when one considers that the Kadima Party, the opposition leading party that currently has a plurality, is projected to all-but-vanish with the defection of most of its leadership to other parties, and is itself projected to lose 23 seats.
Likud has 27 seats and Yisrael Beiteinu has 15. The polls suggest 42 seats as a best-case, with 35 seats potentially more reasonable for Likud-Beiteinu. The Labor Party, with only eight seats now, is expected to get 23 seats, recovering after having split with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who may not even get a seat in the next parliament.
The rightward shift of Likud since the merger has many of its moderate ministers up in arms, fearing that the campaign is going to only make matters worse. But even with moderate voters potentially abandoning them en masse, there looks to be new rightward pressure.
That’s because the really, really far-right Michael Ben-Ari, who has been arrested for his role in settler violence on Palestinians and can’t even get a visa to the US because of his ties with Israeli terrorist group the Kach Party, is forming a new extremely-far-right bloc that will campaign on the premise that the far-right Likud-Beiteinu list is too moderate. The bloc doesn’t have a name yet, but is being called the “New Kach” in the Israeli press. Minus the ban and the US terror listing, of course.
Meanwhile, the new Yesh Atid looks to shore up its position is both more moderate and less hostile to religious Israelis than the Likud-Beiteinu bloc with the announcement of Rabbi Shai Piron as their list’s number two. The party is expected to win 13 or 14 seats, roughly the same as the religious right’s Shas Party.
Though it is several months until the election, this suggests the path for any government being formed is a rough one indeed. Likud-Beiteinu could conceivably keep the same far-right coalition together in theory. In practice, it is going to be almost impossible to court the Shas bloc to rejoin with Lieberman so highly entrenched in the ruling list. On the other hand a center-left majority government looks difficult to piece together as well, needing both Shas and some Arab MPs to form a 60-seat government, but unlikely to be able to convince both to coexist.