JERUSALEM (Jul. 24)
The problematic outcome of yesterday’s Knesset elections threatens Israel with a prolonged period of acute political instability.
With 95 percent of the votes counted by mid-day today, the Labor Alignment appears to have won 45 Knesset seats to 41 for Likud. The remaining 34 are fragmented among a dozen small parties and factions that range from the far left to the extreme rightwing.
While either Labor or Likud could gain a Knesset majority in combination with one or another bloc of small parties, this is an arithmetic rather than a political possibility. Most analysts agree that neither of the two major parties is capable of forming a stable coalition government, protestations to the contrary by politicians on both sides notwithstanding.
FINAL COUNT WON’T BE IN TILL THURSDAY
The Jerusalem Post aptly summed up the situation in its front page headline this morning: “Divided We Stand.” The election results based on actual vote count differ only slightly from the computerized projections based on exit poll samplings which were broadcast shortly after the polls closed last night.
The final count, which will include the soldiers’ vote, is expected to have a minimal effect, if any, on the composition of the next Knesset. It will not be in until Thursday. But as some observers cautioned, even a shift of one seat could be critical.
PRESENT KNESSET LINEUP
The line-up of Knesset seats as it stands now is: Labor, 45; Likud 41; Hadash Communists, National Religious Party, Shas and Tehiya, four seats each; Shinui, Civil Rights Movement and Yahad, three seats each; Aguda Israel, Morasha and Progressive List for Peace, two seats each; Tami, the one-member faction of Yigael Hurwitz and Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, one seat each.
In terms of possible coalition partnerships, the left of center Shinui and the leftist CRM are considered “natural” allies of Labor. Similarly, the ultranationalist Tehiya party is Likud’s ally.
On the far left, the anti-Zionist Hadash Communists are automatically excluded by Labor from any coalition it may head; nor can Labor invite the Progressive List for Peace, a coalition of nationalist Israeli Arabs and leftist Jews who advocate a Palestinian state.
Likud for its part has made clear that it will not have anything to do with the Kahane faction which calls for the forcible ouster of all Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories.
ROLE OF THE RELIGIOUS FACTIONS
What remains are the five religious factions which appear to have won 13 Knesset mandates between them. The NRP has served in both Labor and Likud-led governments since the founding of the State but emerged from yesterday’s elections in a weaker condition than ever.
Shas is a new religious party, sponsored by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The fact that it scored as well as the veteran NRP in its first run for the Knesset is considered a plus in its favor. Yosef is regarded as a political dove and may be amenable to an alliance with Labor.
Morasha, another new religious faction, comprises NRP, Emunim and Poalei Aguda defectors and may have hawkish leanings which could put it in the Likud camp. The Aguda Israel, a member of the outgoing Likud coalition seems to have lost two of its four seats in yesterday’s elections and is therefore in a weakened condition.
Tami, a religious-oriented Sephardic faction, did even worse, dropping from three to one Knesset mandate. Former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s new Yahad Party performed poorly on its first outing. Weizman insisted today that he would not be part of any coalition and is urging the establishment of a national unity government.
LONG PERIOD OF BARGAINING
According to astute political observers, Israel faces a prolonged period of bargaining by both major parties to form coalitions with small, essentially weak partners. These efforts eventually will fail, most observers believe. They could be followed by moves toward a national unity government headed either by Labor or Likud.
Such a regime would be set up specifically to tackle Israel’s worsening economic crisis and political issues that divide Labor and Likud would be held in abeyance
But a unity government on those terms will be shortlived and early elections are again likely. Most political analysts believe it is inconceivable that the next Knesset — the 11th — will serve out its full four-year term.
Under these circumstances, it is considered likely that Labor and Likud would press jointly for legislation aimed at reducing the number of small parties in the Knesset. This can be done by raising the threshold above the present one percent of the vote necessary for a Knesset mandate.
PARTY LEADERSHIPS MAY BE REPLACED
Politicians also predict moves within Labor and possibly Likud to replace their current party leaderships before a new election campaign begins. According to some analysts, Shimon Peres, who failed in three elections to lead Labor to a decisive victory, will be replaced by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin; possibly, former President Yitzhak Navon, who, being of Sephardic origin, may be best qualified to head a party that seems to be increasingly split along ethnic lines.
At the moment, most Israelis, regardless of their political preference, are dismayed by the inconclusive election results which they consider the worst possible in terms of the national interest.
Failure to put together a viable, cohesive government will damage the prospects of solving the country’s urgent economic problems. Israel’s standing abroad will be weakened and the very basis of democracy at home is threatened, in the view of many.
Menachem Savidor, Speaker of the outgoing Knesset, said in an interview today that he could not see how the Knesset will be able to function with 15 contentious fac- tions and no clear cut coalition majority. Many political observers spoke with trepidation of the possible effects of Kahane’s entry into the Knesset which will give him immunity from criminal prosecution.
TRYING FOR A COALITION
All of the foregoing notwithstanding, Labor and Likud were each claiming victory today and seem intent on trying to put together a governing coalition. Labor conceivably could block a Likud-led coalition if Weizman’s faction is prepared to join it in such a parliamentary move.
Labor plus Yahad, Shinui, the CRM, the Hadash Communists and the Arab-Jewish Progressive List for Peace together muster the 60 votes minimum needed to deny a Likud coalition a vote of confidence.
Even if no such move materializes, Likud would be hard pressed to form a coalition without Weizman’s three mandates. The same applies of course to Labor but the latter may be able to arrange for the “passive support” of the Communists and Progressive which would abstain in a confidence vote to block Likud.
Labor leaders are speaking privately today of courting the NRP and/or Tami and Shas as coalition partners. Likud has hopes of uniting all of the religious parties under its wing and would try to woo Weizman or at least gain his “passive support” to block a Labor coalition. Likud is also presumably prepared to work such a deal with Kahane though it would not include him in a coalition.
CHANCES FOR A NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT
Premier Yitzhak Shamir reiterated tonight his call for a national unity government, conceding that “any other government will be hard to establish.”
But the Labor Alignment’s left wing — Mapam and MK Yossi Sarid — is firmly opposed to any partnership with Likud. If they quit the Alignment, Labor would have fewer Knesset mandates than Likud. This apparently has entered into Shamir’s calculations since it means that he would continue as Prime Minister.
Some political analysts predicted today that after weeks and possibly months of political wrangling, a unity government will evolve with the Labor Alignment intact. According to these analysts, Mapam will justify compromise on grounds of the economic crisis and the need to prevent prolongation of the Likud care-taker government.
Meanwhile, four prominent Israeli writers closely associated with the Labor Party — Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, S. Yizhar and Haim Guri — issued an impassioned call to their party, and especially to its leftwing, to try and form a unity government under Labor leadership. The four noted that however unjust and unpalatable this is the clear wish of the people as expressed at the ballot box. The call by the four writers could prove vitally significant in terms of providing a doctrinal or ideological “fig leaf” for Mapam and Labor’s leftwing to drop their opposition to a unity government.