Various media in Israel and abroad continue to speculate that Isaac Herzog could cobble together a coalition against all odds, and replace the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They delude themselves that it's 1999 all over again, the last time Netanyahu fell, that Herzog's chances "appear" to be higher than earlier in the election campaign, or that a unity government with a rotating prime minister is a viable scenario.
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Folks, it's time for an intervention.
There is no scenario in which Isaac Herzog will be Israel's next prime minister, no matter what he declares or what the press reports.
All this talk reminds me of an interview I had as a PhD student in 2011 with a Sri Lankan civil rights activist about their civil war. I asked him about an article he had written in 2005 before the cease-fire there collapsed, in which he stated there was no going back to violence. On what basis had he made that prediction? I asked. He replied, "Wishful thinking."
I know it's harsh news, but the reality is that Herzog and company, while they are obliged to loudly declare their intention to win, have to prepare for becoming a fighting opposition the day after the election. And they should forget about the idea of being part of a unity government, which Netanyahu rejected in January, if he ever entertained it. Netanyahu went to the polls because the previous coalition was ungovernable; a unity government would be even less so.
Let's do a reality check.
1) The Israeli public is indifferent to media "scandals" about Netanyahu. Ever since he brushed off an extramarital affair while running for the Likud leadership in 1993, Netanyahu has been able to frame any publicized misstep as attempted character assassination, and enough of the public has bought it to keep him in power. The fact that Likud has steadily held around 23 seats in the polls since the whole brouhaha over his speech to Congress and Sara's bottle-gate began in January, compounded by reports about his personal expenses and the state comptroller's report on housing demonstrate his Teflon quality.
2) Security and credibility. The left was permanently discredited by the failure of Oslo, and Herzog has nothing to offer to inspire public confidence that he would bring genuine change for which it would be worth giving up the status quo. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has successfully sowed the seeds of fear, helped by the occasional terror attack or war. In the mind of the public, security is #1. Consequently, he continues to garner the highest support as "most suitable for prime minister," despite his low approval ratings.
3) The numbers game: Since being discredited by Oslo, the true left (Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties), which never held fewer than 48 seats through the 1999 election, has never had more than 34 seats since the 2003 election. While they should break through that barrier this election, the left is still looking at no more than 41-42 seats; hardly enough to make a serious bid to reach the minimum of 61. Yet, the Joint List refuses to join any government, so even if Zionist Union wins the most seats out of any party, it will still fail to build a left-wing coalition.
4) The center-left bloc myth: This myth, more than any other, keeps alive false hopes about post-election scenarios. It grew out of Ariel Sharon's Kadima revolution, which gutted the Likud temporarily and sent it to a historic low in the 2006 election. However, once the public understood that Kadima was more than just Likud-light, Kadima collapsed and with it went the center-left bloc. Leaving out the Arabs, no conceivable center-left bloc tops even 50 seats, let alone 60. Why not? Besides the centrist Yesh Atid, the moment Zionist Union tries to corral right-of-center parties, it loses Meretz, because the right-wing parties won’t sit with this truly leftist party.
5) The political and socioeconomic status quos are still holding. The Israeli public has not voted for dramatic change except in the wake of significant blows to the status quo. The aftermath of the Yom Kippur War and the coming of age of Sephardi Jews swept Likud into power; the first intifada and the Russian wave of immigrants swung the pendulum back to Labor; and the onset of the second intifada gave Likud a comeback. Yes, Israel has fought wars in recent years, but the security situation is much more tolerable than it was during the years of the second intifada. And the economy is stumbling but unemployment is low; the stock market is high; and homeowners do not see rising housing prices as a crisis the way the media does. In short, the time is not ripe for change.
To quote Netanyahu's favorite game: check mate.