It's finally over – months of horse trading, mergers, breakups and star signings. By 10 P.M. Thursday night, all parties planning to run in the upcoming election had handed in their candidate lists to the Central Elections Committee. On Friday morning, the campaign launched for real. Thirty-four parties registered with the committee, but no more than a third of them are expected to take seats in the next Knesset.
- The Parties Running in Israel's Next Knesset
- Final Party Lists for 19th Knesset
- 2013 Election: The Bad, the Ugly
- Israel's Election, America's Strategists
- Anshel Pfeffer / A Pyrrhic Victory?
Labor and Hatnuah joining forces didn't happen. The two failed to unite at the last moment and run as a unified center-left bloc against Likud Beiteinu. Tzipi Livni's new party looks, more than anything else, like an earlier version of Labor, with two of that party's former leaders rounding out the top three on her list. Yesterday morning, just before Amir Peretz came on board, Livni announced another latecomer to Hatnuah, Elazar Stern. The former general is both the list's token religious candidate and its right-wing corrective, balancing that other ex-general, peacenik Amram Mitzna, as well as Peretz.
As in every pre-season, some teams reinforced their lineups and boosted their trophy prospects; others were weakened, while some were never serious contenders at all. Everything can still change over the next six and a half weeks, momentum will change hands or peter out, lost hopes will be rekindled and unexpected events will influence the race. For now, though, here are the winners, losers and wild cards of the pre-season.
Avigdor Lieberman: The Yisrael Beiteinu leader is the undoubted winner of the pre-season. The merger with Likud has officially positioned him as the next prime minister's second-in-command and he has not been forced to sacrifice any control over his own party. The final Likud-Beiteinu list shows the smaller party got the better deal. Wednesday's poll on Channel 10 (conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs who is also Haaretz's pollster) gave the joint list 37 seats, five less than what they have in the current Knesset. But if that is what they actually end up with on January 22, Likud will have lost four seats and Lieberman's faction only one.
Habayit Hayehudi: The other big winner is new party leader Naftali Bennett who not only won Habayit's primaries by a landslide, got his allies onto the candidates list and forced the other right-wing-religious party, National Union, to join him on advantageous terms. The tiny party, which seemed on the brink of extinction, is now third in the polls, taking four or five seats from Likud. The Knesset newbie is well on his way to a senior cabinet post.
Labor: Shelly Yacimovich has managed to keep Labor relevant and vibrant with an impressive list of new faces and the most comprehensive manifesto so far on financial issues. She has remained ahead despite the crowded field and the constant challenges by her rivals in the center-left. In a few months, she has proved that Labor is the premier party of the center-left, seeing off Kadima, Meretz and Yesh Atid. Yet it remains to be seen how she will fare against Livni's new party. Amir Peretz's defection to Hatnuah was a blow, but it could work out in her favor, leaving her leadership of Labor uncontested.
Chaim Amsellem: The renegade Shas rabbi failed in his quest to sign recognizable faces to his list, but he is still on a roll. In nearly every poll published over the last month, his Am Shalem party crosses the electoral threshold, and in a few, it even nabs four seats. The party's apparent viability is likely to attract even more voters fed up with politics as usual and seeking a fresh alternative. Am Shalem is now the official default vote of 2013.
Likud MKs: It is almost certain that members of the party will be in the next government, but due to the deal with Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi's surge, it is equally likely that fewer of them will get Knesset seats, cabinet portfolios and committee chairmanships. They also have to live with the image of being either beneficiaries of corrupt deals, extreme right-wingers, or both. Some of them are bothered by that.
Yair Lapid: When he launched Yesh Atid earlier this year, the polls were smiling and the party’s emergence as the second or third largest player in the next Knesset didn't seem too farfetched. But the passing months have not been kind to the party and its standing has gradually declined. Up until a month ago, Yesh Atid still seemed to be doing relatively well. One poll showed that every fifth woman in Israel was planning to vote Lapid. Then along came Livni, and all of a sudden, Yesh Atid turned into the seventh largest party with only seven seats, according to the latest poll.
Kadima: Wild fluctuations from one election to the next are the norm in Israeli politics, but for the largest party in the Knesset to be totally wiped out in one election, as most of the polls are predicting for Kadima, is unprecedented.
Atzmaut: Members of this party are not the first to discover that Ehud Barak never fails to disregard others when making personal political decisions. Atzmaut was never a real party, only a platform for Barak's ambitions, and now that he is leaving politics (though not the Defense Ministry, yet) Atzmaut is a total nonentity.
Shas: After 13 years, Aryeh Deri is back in from the cold and with him comes the return of violent infighting. What hasn't come back, though, is Deri's old magic. Shas is not gaining in the polls; in fact, it has even begun to dip.
Meretz: With an attractive and diverse list, and all the other parties pulling rightward, Meretz should be in a position to rediscover itself this election. The Zionist left may have shrunk somewhat but it is surely larger than the four or five seats the party is receiving in recent polls. Blame the media and all its attention on political warfare between the centrist parties.
Tzipi Livni: In just nine days, the former Kadima leader has assembled a formidable list, but the polls are inconclusive. Hatnuah has gained a certain momentum, but whether Livni manages to keep it up – picking voters off from Labor and Yesh Atid – will depend a lot on how efficient her campaign is.
Benjamin Netanyahu: All the polls still have the prime minister forming the next government, but he has been on his back foot for the last few weeks. Who has time for electioneering when dealing with an operation in Gaza and a diplomatic mega-crisis? While a defeat is extremely unlikely, if Netanyahu doesn't manage to turn the Likud campaign around soon, he will face extremely difficult coalition talks once the ballots have been cast.