Israel's splinter parties may get to be kingmakers if election is close
Gen. Moshe Dayan with his eye patch, a young Cabinet minister of Moroccan origin, a fiery woman civil-rights crusader, a council of Orthodox Jewish sages: All could be as critical in forming the next Israeli government as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin or opposition Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres.
Each leads one of the small parties -- there are 31 in all -- listed on the Israeli ballot for the June 30 parliamentary elections. With the governing Likud coalition and Labor locked in a bitter race that may yield neither a majority in the 120-seat parliament, some small parties could emerge as "kingmakers" in forming a ruling coalition.
After Israeli elections President Yitzhak Navon will consult with the leaders of the largest parties and ask one to form a government. This usually means the man whose party has the most seats. But in a close race it could be the party leader with the best chance of putting together a stable majority coalition. If one leader fails, the other is given a chance. If both fail, new elections can be called.
In the last Israeli elections in May 1977, Labor's defeat was attributed to the meteoric rise of a new, reformist middle-class party, the Democratic Movement for Change. With 15 seats, the movement became a key coalition partner to the Likud. It has since collapsed.
If Labor and Likud finish close -- a June 21 Jerusalem Post poll showed Likud ahead 47 seats to Labor's 37, but 22.8 percent remained undecided -- coalition-building could be complicated. Most observers believe the Likud would have an easier time.
The potential kingpins fall into three groupings: The first are "neutrals" who could enter either the Likud or the Labor Alignment. Primary among them is the National Religious Party (NRP), which now holds 12 seats and is a coalition partner in the government.
The NRP has joined past Labor governments. But, barring a sweeping Labor plurality, it will almost certainly stick with Likud, which would be more generous in giving the party funding for religious schools and Cabinet posts.
The NRP has been wracked with internal splits that may cost it seats. This increases the importance of the extreme religious party Agudat Israel, which now holds four seats in the Likud coalition. Agudat represents self-contained Orthodox Jewish sects that do not officially recognize the Israeli state. It will back whoever supports its religious concerns, such as bans on abortion, autopsies, and military service for religious young women.
The Labor Party leadership would strongly prefer to form a coalition without the religious parties, whose demands would be anathema to many of its own supporters. But Labor would then have to juggle several small parties. And if the religious parties go Likud, this would probably bring Likud near the winning 61-seat mark.
In either case, two new "neutrals" might then play a pivotal role. Tami, the first ethnic slate -- aimed primarily at Jews of North African origin -- to draw major political figures, is a breakaway from the NRP.
Its leader, Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu- Hatzeira, was recently acquitted of corruption charges and turned against what he said was "Ashkenazi" (European- origins) domination of the NRP. This enmity, plus the fact that his No. 2 man is a Labor Party stalwart, could give his expected one-to-four seats to a Labor coalition.
The enigmatic Moshe Dayan, who resigned as Likud foreign minister (following a long history in Labor cabinets) is openly aiming at a "kingmaker" role with his new Telem party. Highly critical of Mr. Begin, he would prefer to join Labor. But his party's standing in the polls has dropped steadily -- from nine seats to one -- so his future role is unclear.
Supporters of the second grouping -- dovish parties backed by middle-class, educated, anti-Likud voters -- are being urged by Labor to back it to boost its seat total. "Anything but Likud" -- seen on bumper stickers -- is the Labor argument. Shinui, the remnant of the Democratic Movement for Change, which stresses electoral reform, and Ratz, a civil-rights party pushing separation of religion and state and women's rights, could get two seats apiece. They have already indicated they would join a Labor coalition if necessary to enable Labor to get the nod from President Navon.
Shelli, a leftist intellectual party stressing the need for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, would support Peres in forming a government while not joining a coalition.
Even the parties at the extreme ends of the political spectrum could find themselves in key roles. The Tehiya Party -- a right-wing breakaway from the Likud calling for annexation of all occupied territories and abrogation of the peace treaty with Egypt, could field three seats. While it would not formally join a Likud coalition, it could play silent partner, pushing Likud and the religious parties over the 60-seat mark.
The same role -- on the other side -- could be played by Rakah, the mainly Arab-Israeli communist party of five seats. While it and Labor are mutually hostile, its tacit support could be necessary to form a Labor government.