THE LANDSLIDE THAT WASN'T
By Sam Jordan
The polling booths had barely closed and the final vote count was 2 days away, but that did not stop the pundits in Israel from rushing to declare a landslide victory for the Left and to eulogize the Right. For example, Sara Honig wrote in the Jerusalem Post wrote on May 18: "Gone is the tie between Left and Right. It was decisively broken and it might stay broken for many years to come... It was a rout for the entire right wing." To paraphrase Mark Twain, could it be that the rumors of the Right's demise are greatly exaggerated?
While Barak did win the race for prime minister handily, within the Knesset things are not so simple. He has no blocking majority as the Left, the Center Party and the Arab parties total only 60 seats out of 120. And these 60 seats include numerous former Likudniks that have wound up with Barak for personal reasons rather than ideological reasons. Barak's One Israel bloc has a mere 26 seats, several of which belong to Gesher and Meimad, not his own Labor party.
If Barak wants to prove that he has great support in the country he will not be able to break the long-standing tradition of not bringing the Arab parties into a coalition, nor will he want a minority government. That would be admitting defeat. But without the Arab parties Barak has only 50 seats from the Left from which to make his coalition. He needs 11 more seats to get a majority.
Though the National Religious Party (NRP) dropped from 9 seats to 5 in the election, it is ironically in an excellent negotiating position. The smallest and easiest coalition that Barak can make is with the non-aligned Yisrael B'aliya with its six seats plus the NRP. He will then have 61 seats plus the support of the 10 Arab seats from outside the coalition. Unlike the other religious parties the NRP is acceptable to the anti-haredi parties on the far Left. The NRP is therefore very attractive to Barak and consequently should move immediately to make a partnership with the Likud. Both parties should then refuse to enter a coalition without the other. This will either force Barak to bring in a large nationalist bloc into his coalition or make a deal with Shas, thus forcing out his anti-haredi partners and requiring even more outsiders to get to the magic 61 seats.
At best Barak is looking at a narrow coalition with a record number of small parties. Some of the parties will be from the Center and Right. The leading party will be the smallest in history and therefore the most influenced by its smaller coalition partners. And the coalition will contain numerous politicians that have proven themselves to be Trojan horses willing to break from a party to further their own interests. Barak's position is extremely tenuous. In fact, Netanyahu was in a much better position last time around, with a right-center-religious bloc of 68 seats and fewer small parties. His coalition lasted less than 3 years.
Barak's false aura of a conquering general needs to be destroyed as soon as possible. If the Right and religious parties accept the virtual reality of their being vanquished and merely sue for the best possible surrender terms they will miss a golden opportunity to restrain the Left before it attempts the kind of disastrous adventures that we saw from 1992 to 1996. That must not be allowed to happen.
Sam Jordan is an Internet consultant who lives in Ma'aleh Adumim.