What are Netanyahu's options after poor election showing?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 |  Israel Today Staff

Israel's election is over, and the final tally is more or less known. Now starts the real struggle over forging a stable governing coalition, and with the relatively poor showing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu's Likud Party, that's going to be no easy task.

In the previous Knesset, Likud had 27 seats and allied right-wing party Israel Beiteinu had another 15. The two parties decided to merge for the current election, but the scheme didn't pay off. Early polls predicted the combined Likud-Beiteinu would take 45 seats, but exit polls on Wednesday showed it had won just 31 mandates.

On top of that, the right-wing Jewish Home and the Orthodox Shas parties were less successful than predicted, winning just 11 seats apiece. That means the religious-right of the Israeli political spectrum will control just 60 out of 120 seats in the 19th Knesset, and Netanyahu will be unable to form a stable right-wing coalition.

The easiest option for Netanyahu will be to form a coalition with Jewish Home, a natural partner, and the surprise winner in this election, the centrist Yesh Atid party of former news anchor Yair Lapid, which became the second largest Knesset faction with 19 seats.

A Likud-Jewish Home-Yesh Atid coalition would have at least 61 seats when the final results are in, and any smaller parties added to the list would only bolster the government's stability.

Lapid has signaled his readiness to join a Netanyahu government. But, Yesh Atid is against continued government payouts to the Orthodox sector, which doesn't pay taxes or serve in the army, and therefore would be unlikely to sit in a coalition with Shas.

Netanyahu can form a stable government without Shas, but doing so would likely result in the Orthodox party doing all it could to help the left-wing factions stymie and ultimately bring down the new government.

Netanyahu would prefer to form as broad a coalition as possible, but Labor Party leader Shelley Yechimovich previously insisted that she would not sit in a unity government.

Hours after the polls closed on Tuesday, Yechimovich stated that there was still a very good chance of preventing Netanyahu from becoming the next prime minister, and she may be right.

If Lapid can be convinced to not join Netanyahu, that would leave the prime minister nearly unable to form a solid, stable coalition, and President Shimon Peres could opt to give Lapid a shot at the task.

With the backing of all the center and left-wing parties, excluding the three Arab factions and perhaps the extremist Meretz party, and with the support of Jewish Home (which despite being right-wing is capable of working with Yesh Atid), Lapid could potentially form a broader coalition than Netanyahu.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu, who has proved himself to be a skillful political negotiator, can convince Shas and Lapid to sit together, he could potentially form a very stable coalition with as many as 85 seats.

The days to come are certain to be intense, and the final outcome of this election is far from settled at this point.

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