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Like many people, I've been fascinated watching the protests in Israel over the past weeks. I'm not going to detail what caused them or anything like that. Others have done that in much greater detail and there's no need to rehash them. But I think that many here are misunderstanding what might happen as a result of them and this is what I wish to address. Please follow me over the fold.

I'm a political junkie - I follow politics in lots of countries. It's my hobby; I tell people that I have no idea who the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers are (don't even know the QB to be honest) but I can tell you the results of the last election in Sweden. I say that to say I don't expect people to have the same familiarity with Israeli politics as I do and so it's perfectly reasonable for someone to expect that demonstrations the size of those we have seen in Israel would lead to the fall of the Government. However, this is not at all likely and I would like to explain the reasons why.
There has been a tendency to mix this protest movement in Israel up with the Arab Spring and people describing the Netanyahu government as one more domino to fall like the ones in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. This ignores a huge difference - those other governments were dictatorships that were in place for decades - Netanyahu was democratically elected by the people of Israel in a fair election just two and a half years ago. That's not to say people can't get mad at him and want him gone, but no one is thinking that he should be run from office at the point of a gun like the Arab dictators. So if he is to be replaced, it must be with the democratic systems already in place in Israel. There are two options. One is by election and one is by a no confidence vote of the Israeli Parliament.
As the Prime Minister, Netanyahu could dissolve the Knesset at any time and call a new election. He's certainly unlikely to do that right now - he still has the second half of his term to run and Netanyahu has a history of complaining about the instability of the Israeli political system. He'd love to be the first PM in ages to go a full term. Even if he felt it might be to his advantage to call a snap election (and that might actually be the case, believe it or not), it would be out of character for him to do so.
Plenty of Israeli PM's have been brought down by no confidence motions, though. In Israel, a motion of no confidence not only has to pass by a majority, said motion must also have a replacement PM named as part of it. So it's not enough to say that Netanyahu must go, those voting that way must also agree on who is to replace him (this wasn't always the case in Israel, btw.) There is, realistically, only one possible replacement PM in the existing Knesset - Tzipi Livni, the leader of Kadmia (which is actually the largest party in the Knesset holding one seat more than Netanyahu's Likud.) She would need 61 votes to form a government in her own right. Could she get them? The answer is yes - but also no.
You see, one thing that any Israeli government cannot do is rely on the Arab parties to make up the number needed for a majority. One can have any number of arguments about the unfairness of that, but it's a political reality. You need to get to 61 without them. In the current Knesset, the three Arab parties hold 11 seats. Those are effectively off the table for Livni. So what can she count of?
Right away, she can count on her own MK's (28) those of the far left New Movement-Mertez party (3) and those of Labour (8). That's 39 - 22 more to go. She'd have to get the two main religious parties - Shas (11) and UTJ (5). It's possible in theory - they've sat in left-leaning governments before. I think it would be harder than usual to get them and she'd have to bribe them like hell, but it's doable if she promised a boatload of money for housing and things like that. Doing so would also infuriate many of her base supporters and create all sorts of problems going forward, but if she was desperate, it might work. That would get her to 55; only 6 more needed but that would be a real stretch. She'd have to get the 5 members of Ehud Barak's Independence Party (which split of from Labor.) I don't see how she does it - Barak is already the Defense Minister; what can she offer him that he doesn't already have? Plus, he and Netanyahu are actually friends going back from the days in the military when Barak was Netanyahu's commanding officer. And even if he did come over for some reason, that would still only be 60 members. In the past, the National Religious Party  (now renamed The Jewish Home) might have been an option, but they are too right wing these days. Plus, they have only 3 seats.  I can't imagine that Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu (15) party would sit in the same government as Meretz and the National Union (4) is so right-wing, they aren't even in the existing government. Given the makeup of the existing Knesset, I see no way that Netanyahu can be toppled and Livni become PM.
Ah, you say, but eventually there will be an election and surely the numbers will change? Perhaps, but the latest poll actually showed the right wing parties gaining a few seats. And for a left or center party to get a chance to form a government, they have to be either the biggest party in the Knesset or come very close. Labor is a fragment of its former self. They have been reduced by splits and defections - the latest poll shows them winning 10 seats in the next election - down even from the historic low of 13 they got last time.
But what about Kadima - they are the largest party now - surely they have a chance to repeat this feat? The problem is that Kadima is a rather artificial construct. It was formed by Ariel Sharon who intended it to be a center-right party and was made up of the more centrist members of Likud and the more right wing members of Labor. In practice, it also swallowed the supporters of the centrist and secular Shinui party who went from 15 MKs to 0 in one election. Sharon fell into a coma after forming the party and just before the next election. In many ways, Kadima won it's one election on the strength of Sharon even though people understood he was now out of the picture. But they started drifting more to the center as the Likud recovered strenght and they are now considered center left. All their Likud support has gone and has been replaced by former Laborites. And there is a big, potential earthquake out there that could snatch away a large portion of their support. Remember I mentioned that Kadima had gotten a lot of votes from supporters of Shinui? Well, the son of Shinui's most popular leader, Tommy Lapid is clearly planning to enter politics and re-invigorate Shinui. How worried is Kadima about this? So worried that they have actually proposed a law - known informaly in Israel as the Yair Lapid Law to keep Lapid (a journalist) out of the Knesset. Of course, Lapid knows what they are up to and will find a way around it. And there's no reason that Lapid's party would be unwilling to sit in a left-leaning government but if he takes a chunk of seats from Kadima, there is no way that any party other than Likud will have the largest number of seats and get the right to form the next government. And Lapid could easily do as his father did and sit in a government that leans right.
Of course, a year is an eternity in politics and things can always change. But frankly, based on the reality on the ground in Israel, I have a hard time seeing any other outcome than Netanyahu serving out his full term and getting re-elected.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Solid analysis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greatdarkspot

    You are assuming though that the protest don't translate into a significant change in composition of the Knesset and that parties can't merge to obtain the right to form a government.

    This is only, of course, relevant for the next election.

  •  The following appears to be taken on faith: (6+ / 0-)
    one thing that any Israeli government cannot do is rely on the Arab parties to make up the number needed for a majority. One can have any number of arguments about the unfairness of that, but it's a political reality. You need to get to 61 without them. In the current Knesset, the three Arab parties hold 11 seats. Those are effectively off the table for Livni.

    As the protests have shown, the electorate seems to be warming up towards the idea of a more inclusive, pluralistic society. As such, what was politically unthinkable until now (an alliance with the Knesset members who are Arab) might no longer be unthinkable.

  •  Aaron Rodgers...... (7+ / 0-)
    I tell people that I have no idea who the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers are (don't even know the QB to be honest)

    From the great University of California at Berkeley is the Packer QB

    As for the rest.... I think very sound analysis in general. Funny but I thought about writing a diary similar to this one as well because as wonderful as the protests on Saturday were there is a reality that does need to be addressed, recognized and dealt with.

    Of course, a year is an eternity in politics and things can always change. But frankly, based on the reality on the ground in Israel, I have a hard time seeing any other outcome than Netanyahu serving out his full term and getting re-elected.

    Now this is an interesting thing. I would not "bet the ranch" on anything in Israeli politics, that said - if the economy goes further south than it is AND the Palestinians maintain relatively peaceful protest movements there is much more chance of a change.

    If however, a third intifada breaks out, and the security situation continues to be speculative at best then look to the Right to maintain it's power.

    Another random factor are the Russians. It is, will anyone compete with Avigdor Lieberman for their support. Can someone in the Center or on the Left bring an alternative to challenge Yisrael Betainu?

    Finally when you talk about Shas, don't forget Ariyeh Deri who seems to be rising from the political dead. He would be more inclined to move to a Kadima government than a Likud government. The thing is that all this supposes that Kadima remains politically viable. And that is a question in itself.

    DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

    by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 09:00:41 AM PDT

  •  This analysis makes me sad. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Coaster

    I finally, finally, finally want to see a fair and justifiable solution to the I/P issue and Netanyahu just ain't cutting it, to say the least.

    Israel owes it to its own people and to the world to find this solution, so that humankind can move on from having to focus on this consuming issue all the time.

    It's preventing progress at a time when the world needs to come together to face global issues.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 09:30:07 AM PDT

  •  Arabs MK are systematically marginalized under (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Assaf

    an unspoken agreement among the Jewish parties.

    Some democracy!

    Gasoline made from the tar sands gives a Toyota Prius the same impact on climate as a Hummer using gasoline made from oil. ~ Al Gore

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 09:36:26 AM PDT

  •  Two big wild cards (0+ / 0-)

    i agree that the current govt will likely last to elections. Barring something extreme.    

    There are two wild cards to consider, either of which could change the entire landscape.  If they occur together, it will be tectonic.  The first is the tent protestors, which could coalesce into a formal political party, which may be inclusive of Arab, Bedoiun and Druse.   The second is Palestinian initiatives for self determination and independence.  

    Hard to tell what the effects will be, but I do think there will be a shuffling and redefinition of the parties.  

    Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

    by Eiron on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 10:30:57 AM PDT

    •  What makes you think that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greatdarkspot, Mets102

      the tent protestors have any interest in a political party that changes the Zionist nature of the State?

      As far as I can see, even if the Tent Protest people did coalesce into a party, they would be primarily economic. They might be inclusive of the Bedouin (who generally are not anti-Zionist and do serve in the IDF) and the Druze (who are supportive of Israel) but, do you really think they would join together with Palestinian elements that don't or won't specifically recognize the Zionist nature of Israel?

      DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

      by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 11:04:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Depends what is meant (0+ / 0-)

        By "Zionist nature".     The old labor parties gott a lot Arab support.  The tent folks are certainly more labor Zionist than the current religious zionists. Som,e labor zionists could argue that all the post Labor governents have, in fact, changed the Zionist nature of the state, away from secular collectivism to neo liberalism with a religious  zionist overlay.
        Which Zionist nature?   I think any party that supports equal civil rights and economic opportunity for all citizens would get minority support.  
        Is Zionism so fragile it can be changed by a minor party?  

        Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

        by Eiron on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 12:24:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Simple when I say "Zionist Nature" of the State (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greatdarkspot

          I mean the National Homeland and State of the Jewish people, the original definition.

          I would agree with you that the Tent folks are more in line with the original Ben-Gurion, Sharett Zionists than the current crop of religious Zionists (that approximate Jabotinsky and his crew). I would also agree with you that the Zionist nature of the State has changed.

          However, that said, economic/social justice without a Palestinian State AND no Palestinain RoR or ending of Hoq Ha'Shvut would gain the support of the Arab Parties. It simply won't happen.

          The tent folks are not calling for an end to Hoq' HaShvut OR for Palestinian RoR. They want a Social Democratic State in Israel with civil rights for all Israelis. But civil rights do not include an end to the Law of Return.

          DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

          by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 01:36:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It may be (0+ / 0-)

            That wouldn't be a problem to maintain preferential immigration policies, if there is full equality of all citizens in all other respects.  

            Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

            by Eiron on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 01:45:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well Eiron, I don't think so (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              greatdarkspot

              considering I say that all the time and I am considered somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun....

              I have constantly said I support equal rights for all Israeli citizens but that the preferential immigration policy of Hoq' Ha'Shvut remain in place and that there is no Palestinian Right of Return to post-peace Israel. Pretty much the positions of the Israeli Left of Center parties.

              That is constantly rejected as Right Wing propaganda on this site, so you tell me what is real.

              DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

              by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 02:47:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I wrote a long comment (0+ / 0-)

                In response, but it got lost.  I think the preferential immigration policy for any Jew, but especially for those in personal danger would be acceptable to any Arab Israeli, as long as their rights as citizens would be equal to all other citizens of the State.
                The ghastly contrast between ROR for Palestinians recently displaced and EuropeanAmerican Jewry does need to be addressed, somehow, I leave that to the principals.  It won't be easy, but it must be addressed.  

                Imagine yourself an Arab Israeli, same age as you, same education, same number of kids.   what would you accept? What would you want for your family?    They are not unlike us, they are us.

                economic opportunity, dignity, franchise, and a better life for our children, that might level the conflict

                Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

                by Eiron on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 05:05:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Funny, most of my family and friends in Israel... (0+ / 0-)

    ...are pretty sure that he is falling.

    I think you are seeing the parliamentary trees but missing the public forest.

    A government facing such a widespread discontent (the percent support for protests is in the high 80's in all polls), a discontent that has now spread well beyond the traditional left and engulfs most of the younger generation - is doomed.

    The exact mechanism of how and why, what group of MKs will defect, etc. etc. - this is not really important.

    Israel is not the US where people vote for President only once every 4 years on the 1st Tue after the 1st Mon in November, no matter what.

    There's enough flexibility in the Israeli system to pretty much guarantee a premature falling, even of a functional government. Needless to say, one as dysfunctional and unpopular as Bibi's has become.

    •  Assaf... If that is the case then (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greatdarkspot

      how does that explain the polls that show the Right actually picking up seats in a new election.

      Netanyahu might fall, but who would replace him? What defections do you see? Will YB voters suddenly lurch left or will YB bail on the coalition? Likud seems pretty disciplined who is going defect? Now Ariyeh Deri could accomplish something but at best that might split Shas.

      But do you see N.U. or UTJ bailing on the coaliton?

      Now before you blow this out of proportion and claim I am supporting Netanyahu... I am going to prevent that by saying "Don't be silly". I am not, BUT I am seeking info. as to how you think Netanyahu will fall and some transformational government will come to power (that is if you do indeed believe that).

      DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

      by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 03:11:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Misprint... N.U. is not part of the coalition (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        greatdarkspot

        In reading it over I just caught that.

        My bad... National Union IS NOT a member of the Likud coalition.

        DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

        by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 03:15:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Predicting an Israeli election before a campaign.. (0+ / 0-)

        ...has even started, is a very low-yield sport.

        In most campaigns, whatever the Conventional (non)Wisdom said before things got into gear, was turned on its head by the end of election night.

        Check it out.

        Specifically for now: the Israeli public is far from being the heavily right-leaning electorate that the 2009 elections suggest. Historically these elections will probably be remembered as an outlier. Bibi himself is neither very popular nor charismatic, and once under pressure he tends to boomerang himself even farther down and turn himself into a drag on the campaign.

        But again, I don't want to go on forecasting. Let's just say that toppling a govt. in Israel via Non-Confidence is a fairly easy affair, and that conditions are over-ripe right now.

        •  Well I hope you are right because (0+ / 0-)

          the Coalition is a disaster for Israel.

          Who do you think then assumes power? Kadima? The tent protestors (or a new party)?

          Here is last months series of no confidence motions (again notice the date 08/04/11)

          * Kadima’s no-confidence motion titled ‘The Netanyahu government’s failure in the economic sector causes price increases in all sectors of the economy’ was defeated 37-52 with 31 MKs not present.

          *Labor and Meretz’s joint no-confidence motion titled ‘Destroying the social fabric and deliberately deepening the gaps and distortions in housing, health and education, as well as damaging Israel’s democracy’ was defeated 39-53 with 28 MKs not present.

          *Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad’s joint no-confidence motion titled ‘The national housing shortage, including the Arab sector’ was defeated 18-53 with 9 MKs abstaining and 40 MKs not present.

          * National Union’s no-confidence motion titled ‘The freeze policy in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria is dragging the country into a severe housing crisis’ was defeated 8-54 with 13 MKs abstaining and 45 MKs not present.

          One thing that is telling is that the Labor, Kadima, and Arab Parties No-Confidence votes ALL got more yes'  votes than the National Union vote.

          Heh.. those guys are freakin' radioactive.;... Good to see.

          DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

          by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 03:34:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Check this out.;... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greatdarkspot

          DK4: For those times when pissing in the hummus isn't enough

          by volleyboy1 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 04:03:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Correction of Major Mistakes in Diary: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lawrence, Justanothernyer
    You see, one thing that any Israeli government cannot do is rely on the Arab parties to make up the number needed for a majority.

    WRONG. For most of its duration, the Rabin government relied upon the 5 MKs of "Arab" parties, b/c Shas and a couple of Labor deserters had left it with only 56 seats.

    These parties were not formally a part of the coalition, but there was open coordination and negotation between them and the govt., to ensure their support.

    Since then a lot of time has passed. Now these parties have more than doubled, to a combined 11 seats; barring major catastrophe they will get at least that in the next election. In particular, the Hadash party (4 seats) has become much more mainstream-accepted in the Jewish public. Hadash MK Dov Khenin (who is Jewish, btw) was pretty close to winning the mayorship of Tel Aviv in 2008. And the current protests which placed equality for Arabs in Israel in a pretty central spot on the agenda, have helped this acceptance further.

    Besides this, all that's needed to topple the govt. is for 61 MKs to agree on the same name (presumably Livni) to support in the No-Confidence motion only. They can refuse to actually set up a Livni govt. later - leading to an early election. It is a purely formal step.

    You are really trying to impose the status quo onto a reality that is rapidly shifting, and a detached purely academic analysis onto a system that has, in its nature, a very low tolerance for full-term PMs.

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