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Israelis Vote with Domestic Issues in Mind

Amy Farina

On January 22, 3.6 million Israelis went to the polls to cast their vote for members of the 19th Knesset. With 99% of the ballots counted, the 120-seat Israeli Parliament is split with the right and left blocs each holding around 60 seats. Although the final tally can change numbers slightly, current results show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance led the polls with 31 seats, while the newly-created centrist Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid followed with 19 seats and the Labor Party led by Shelly Yachimovich received 15 seats — the last two contributing to the left bloc in the Knesset.

It came as little surprise that the Likud-Beiteinu list garnered the most seats; polls prior to the election predicted it would capture some 34 slots, placing it in a position to form a coalition government. What did surprise, however, was Yesh Atid’s high turnout. It was believed that the Labor Party, previously holding eight seats, would instead come in second. Kadima, meanwhile, formerly led by Tzipi Livni and currently the largest opposition party, was expected to see a precipitous drop in its number of seats, and it did — down from 28 to a mere 2.

In a poll published by the Israeli news site Haaretz prior to the election, 47% of Israeli voters cited socioeconomic issues as their main concern when voting, while only 18% said negotiations with the Palestinians and 10% cited Iran’s nuclear program as the most important issues. These findings coincide with the election results that brought Yesh Atid to second place, as well as 2011’s demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest in favor of greater access to free education, cheaper food, affordable housing, and an end to the rise in taxes.

After the final election results are in, the political parties will concentrate on coalition building — a process that starts with President Shimon Peres asking the winning party to form an alliance with other parties to command a Knesset majority. If that party fails to do so within six weeks, the second-place party, in this case Yesh Atid, is given the opportunity to form the majority alliance.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has pledged to put together the “broadest possible government.” While “prevent[ing] a nuclear Iran” would be the government’s first priority, the other challenges Netanyahu listed in his victory speech illustrate Israelis’ focus on domestic concerns: stabilizing the economy, creating a more equal military service, cutting the cost of living, and peace with the Palestinians.