Victory in next week’s Knesset elections will be measured not by who wins the most votes but by which party is most able to form a government.
And that will depend on the size of the respective blocs rather than of the individual parties.
The key to the results on June 23, and to the subsequent coalition negotiations, will be whether the Labor-led bloc achieves at least 60 of 120 seats in the Knesset.
Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin agrees that his primary goal is a “blocking bloc” — assembling a bloc of 60 Knesset mandates, comprising Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties, that could thwart any attempt by Likud to form another rightist-religious coalition government.
The complicating factor in this electoral arithmetic is that such a bloc only provides Rabin with the power to stop Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir from reconstituting his old coalition.
It does not provide Rabin with the ingredients of an alternative coalition because he is not prepared to take the Arab lists into a Labor-led government.
He sees them as legitimate allies to block Likud but would want his own government to be founded on a broader basis.
There is a big question mark over whether Rabin will achieve his “blocking bloc.” If he does, however, he will hold the cards.
The religious parties and other possible “swing parties” with no ideological commitment to either of the big parties would probably gravitate to him if only because Shamir’s Likud would be incapable of reconstituting its government.
Alternatively, Rabin could initiate another unity coalition with Likud, leaving most or all of the small parties out in the cold.
His hypothetical ability to form a narrow government, and Shamir’s inability to do so, would serve Rabin’s purposes in that scenario too, for he would likely become prime minister of the unity government.
The following are the parties on the left that Rabin needs for his “blocking bloc”:
LABOR. Israel’s chief opposition party is running this year under the official banner “Labor Under the Leadership of Yitzhak Rabin.”
Labor’s entire campaign, its platform and its political posture have been subordinated to the single goal of winning.
And the party has decided that Rabin is its biggest asset.
Rabin is confident that he can woo sufficient disaffected Likud voters to his middle-of-the-road positions to tilt the balance.
Labor’s doves have faded from sight, their views on peace, the Palestinians and borders deftly soft-pedaled by the campaign spin-doctors.
For the moment, Rabin and his aides have succeeded in presenting a posture that stresses the familiar Israeli negatives: no Palestinian state, no return to the 1967 lines, no descent from the Golan Heights.
At the same time, the party has not dropped its conciliatory positions: a quick autonomy deal with the Palestinians and a long-term vision that does not see absorbing the bulk of the territories and their populace into sovereign Israel.
Labor strategists have taken pains during the campaign to focus as much as possible on domestic issues.
Labor veterans recall ruefully that their own party’s fall from power in 1977 was attributable as much to disgust at government corruption as to any ideological shift by the electorate.
MERETZ. The logic behind the decision of the three dovish Zionist parties — Citizens Rights Movement, Mapam and Shinui — to amalgamate in advance of the elections involved the higher threshold for entry into the Knesset — 1.5 percent instead of just 1 percent of the votes cast.
Shinui and possibly even Mapam risked being shut out if they ran on their own.
But their decision also reflected the three parties’ understanding that as a united bloc, with perhaps a dozen or more seats compared to the 10 among them in the outgoing Knesset, their influence on the shape of the next government and its policies would be greater.
Ironically, Meretz could discover it has failed in its purpose even if its existence and electoral success turns out to have given the Labor-led bloc an edge over the Likud-led forces.
That would happen if Rabin decided to go for a unity government with Likud rather than undertake the lengthy and frustrating effort to cobble together a narrow coalition that would have to compromise between the antithetical positions of Meretz and the Orthodox parties.
Meretz leaders have unequivocally committed themselves not to participate in a unity government with the Likud on any terms.
HADASH. This veteran party, formerly linked closely to the Moscow Communist establishment, is fighting to show that there is life after death.
Despite the demise of communism worldwide and the breakup of the Soviet empire, Hadash has not ditched its doctrines or denied its former affinity.
Rather, the party still presents itself as a fighting force for social equality — especially for Israel’s Arabs, who comprise more than 90 percent of its constituency.
In foreign policy terms, Hadash takes an Arab mainstream position, favoring the eventual emergence of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Its immediate electoral concern is to keep its primacy over the competing Arab lists–Abdel Wahab Darousha’s ARAB DEMOCRATIC PARTY and rival Mohammed Miari’s PROGRESSIVE LIST FOR PEACE.
Political observers here attach prime importance to the announcement last month by the leadership of the Moslem religious movement in Israel that it favors Arab participation in the elections and, by implication, support for one of the Arab lists.
The fundamentalists, with their growing strength in the Arab sector, could have undermined the ability of the two small Arab lists to cross the threshold, had they recommended to their followers to stay home on polling day.
Publicly, the three mainly Arab parties bridle at the “second-class” role assigned them by Labor: They are welcome as partners in a “blocking bloc” but not in a government.
Privately, however, the Arab political leaders recognize that this reflects political realism, at least so long as there is no substantial progress toward a diplomatic settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.