Quick recap for new followers: The road to the Prime Minister’s House is a 3-phase process. Phase 1 is the results of the Knesset election process. Phase 2 is the nomination process at the President’s Residence. Phase 3 is the Knesset vote that approves the government presented by the Prime Minister candidate that was nominated by the President and succeeded in forming a coalition.
I believe I am the only website that has tracked every Knesset-seat-poll over Netanyahu’s second, third and fourth terms as they were published or broadcasted. Loyal readers have noticed that under every poll I match the blocs up in a specific way that examines the Phase 2 chances of a Netanyahu re-election. From time to time people question that breakdown. Already in 2010 I was criticized by my followers for not using the standard coalition-opposition breakdown. Current events highlight the importance of why I divide up the blocs the way I do.
In 2009 Tzipi Livni won Phase 1 with Kadima winning 28 seats to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud with 27. For some curious reason some in the international media decided to believe Livni’s spin from election night that she had a good shot at succeeding Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister. Most insiders knew that wasn’t going to happen. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu’s first term Avigdor Liberman would take Yisrael Beitenu’s 15 seats to Livni over his former boss. In Phase 2 Netanyahu received the nomination of 65 MKs. Livni entered the President’s Residence with 28 seats and left with no other party agreeing to nominate her despite her Phase 1 victory.
It was during Phase 2 of the 2009 process that I realized the vital importance of the right-religious bloc. Ehud Barak brought Labor and their 13 seats into Netanyahu’s coalition so that he could remain the Defense Minister. National Union and their four seats were left out in the cold despite their Phase 2 nomination of Netanyahu. This was interesting on both fronts. Barak, who didn’t nominate Netanyahu in Phase 2, only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without him. Perhaps more importantly, Netanyahu was willing to give up on a party that nominated him in Phase 2.
In 2013 Netanyahu’s Likud Beitenu alliance with Liberman won Phase 1 with 31 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Labor Party Leader Shelly Yacimovich who gave a speech election night, when partial results showed a 60-60 bloc tie, claiming that an anti-Netanyahu bloc could be formed to oust him. Results started to indicate the right-religious bloc would get its 61st seat and Yair Lapid announced he would nominate Netanyahu for another term. In Phase 2, Netanyahu had 82 MKs nominations and many options. His first move was to sign a coalition deal with Livni, who didn’t nominate him in Phase 2, who only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without her. Despite nominating him in Phase 2, Shas, UTJ and even Kadima were all left out.
In 2015 Netanyahu’s Likud won Phase 1 with 30 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Zionist Union/Labor Party Leader Issac Herzog who gave a speech election night that he had a shot at building a coalition. Besides overpromising on ministry portfolios Herzog faced the situation that Kahlon said he wouldn’t sit with the Arabs, Liberman said he wouldn’t sit with Meretz and the Haredim said they wouldn’t sit with Yesh Atid. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Likud Central Committee Chairman and the only Likud Minister Netanyahu trusted with two portfolios during his second term Moshe Kahlon would take his ten seats to Herzog. There was also talk of President Rivlin pushing a national unity government even though the law states clearly that the President must give the first crack at forming a new coalition to the candidate that produces 61 or more nominating votes. Netanyahu received 67 MKs’ nominations to Herzog’s 29. The only other list to back Herzog was Meretz. The Joint List and Yesh Atid made the decision not to nominate Herzog in Phase 2. Netanyahu produced a 61-MK narrow coalition in Phase 3 after failing to come to an agreement with Liberman.
An interesting aspect of the 2015 election was the Arab-Left-Center bloc that can be labeled the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc”. If the four lists – Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, The Joint List and Meretz – would have together produced 61 seats then Netanyahu would have been defeated. We have established that there are changes in coalition politics between the nominating process of Phase 2 and the vote of Phase 3. In this scenario it would have been enough for the The Joint List to nominate Herzog in Phase 2 and serve as a placeholder for the Haredim or Liberman to replace them for Phase 3. The problem with the math was that even in this event Herzog would not be able to complete a coalition puzzle for Phase 3, but it could have been enough for Netanyahu to retire during Herzog’s failed attempt and for Likud to choose someone else that would be able to form a coalition afterwards.
This weekend reports surfaced of the latest attempt to unseat Netanyahu – a party or bloc of Lapid-Kalon-Liberman-Sa’ar-Ashkenazi. This reminds me of the Olmert-Livni-Lapid-Ramon-Shelly meetings to run on a party or bloc for the 2013 elections. The attempt is to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 in Phase 2. This measure has failed in the past because despite what the mainstream media says there has been no one else with the ability to be competitive for those 61 Phase 2 nominations. However, this modified plan to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 nominations as opposed to an alternative of a single candidate trying to secure 61 for themselves is an interesting development. As I stated previously, had the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc” of the center-left-Arab reached 61 seats it could have been possible to oust Netanyahu.
It is enough for one of the chips to fall out for a plan like this to collapse. At the once-every-five-years Yisrael Beitenu conference Liberman slammed Netanyahu saying he can’t trust him and won’t promise to recommend him as PM in next election. The part many reporters left out was that he also said he would never join a left-wing government. You might be able to count on Liberman to back an alternative candidate for Phase 2, but you run into the same Phase 3 problems of the previous election of his refusal to sit with Meretz or the Arabs.
Kahlon’s Faction Chairman MK Roy Folkman told Knesset TV on December 22nd that “the Prime Minister contacts us all the time and he places a lot of concrete proposals on the table but merging Kulanu into the Likud is not relevant at this point in time”. Before the last elections Kahlon, after flirting with Lapid, started negotiations with Likud on a joint list that went on until a day before the final lists were submitted. If Kahlon, whose voters mostly supported Netanyahu for Prime Minister, moved away from the Likud he’d have to revamp his list because many of his MKs prefer Netanyahu to Lapid.
In the event we are talking about a “center-bloc” instead of a “mother-party”, Liberman, Kahlon and even Netanyahu’s former #2 Gideon Sa’ar might balk at not nominating Netanyahu. Despite “talking tough” they have all fallen in line with Netanyahu during the Phase 2 process. The three are all center-right and might not want to risk ending this current long tenure of the right in power just to remove Netanyahu. More importantly, the three all want senior portfolios and are more valuable to Netanyahu than the Herzog-Livni-Lapid-Ashkenazi struggle for the top spots. Liberman can’t be Defense Minister if Ashkenazi is a player. Kahlon can’t keep a senior portfolio if all the top center-left candidates are expecting one. Sa’ar isn’t going to come back to politics unless he gets one of the top three or four ministries. Egos and portfolios matter. Some argue it was Herzog’s indication that he would give Finance to Lapid over Kahlon that led Kulanu into the coalition. Liberman said he would have signed the coalition deal if Netanyahu agreed to give him the Defense Ministry and if Netanyahu hadn’t reached 61 MKs with his current coalition he might have done just that.
If the current coalition of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ are able to stay over 61 MKs none of this will even matter. Netanyahu knows this and that is the plan he is working on. Although I’m sure that if the current coalition grows in the next election the narrative will shift and there will be analysts and pundits that will assure us Shas would prefer a coalition where they would receive lower budgets and less power.
I’m going to keep measuring the blocs according to my Phase 2 predictions as I have since 2010. Liberman, Kahlon & Sa’ar will remain in the right column and Lapid & Ashkenazi will remain in the left. The right-religious bloc is the best indicator of Netanyahu’s chance at a fifth term. The center-left-Arab bloc is the key to defeating Netanyahu.