Contrary to the predictions of Tuesday evening’s exit polls, the Likud Party surged ahead, securing a dramatic electoral victory. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to form a coalition government with right wing and religious parties, as well as the centrist Kulanu Party. With 99% of votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud Party is expected to hold 30 seats, while the Zionist Union is likely to hold 24. The leader of the Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, conceded his defeat, stating that “The nation has had its say, and we have to respect that.”
Voter turnout in this election reached 71.8%, the highest since 1999. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, due to the new law that increased the electoral threshold parties must pass to enter the Knesset, the new parliament will contain the fewest number of parties (10) since 1992. Additionally, there will be a record number of female members of Knesset (28), and an increase in the number of Arab members of Knesset, including a doubling of their number in Zionist political parties. The Joint List party, a combination of four Arab political parties that united to pass the electoral threshold, is expected to become the 3rd largest party in the Knesset, with 14 seats.
Pre-election polls had Likud trailing the Zionist Union by four seats, and this left many people wondering how and why this changed. One explanation is that in the final days of his campaign, Netanyahu appealed to his right wing base, urging them to “vote for my party, to prevent the left from taking over Israel.” Professor Avi Degani, the only pollster who consistently predicted a Likud victory over the Zionist Union, stated that those “who were politically allied with Likud got scared that the Left may win and they came back home.” By warning about increased left wing turnout and claiming that there was a foreign conspiracy to undermine them, the Likud Party managed to pull votes away from smaller parties to its right. Additionally, this mobilized people who haven’t voted in recent elections and, as Times of Israel journalist Haviv Rettig Gur notes, allowed the Likud Party to pull “off its own surprise… by winning the turnout race.”
Trying to head off a vote on legislation that would require Congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration is lobbying senators not to support the bill, Politico reported yesterday.
The White House is moving aggressively to limit Democratic defections on Capitol Hill that could undermine its negotiations with Iran, dispatching senior officials and President Barack Obama himself to lobby senators against taking action before a nuclear deal with the rogue regime is reached.
Senior administration officials have asked Senate Democrats to notify the White House if they are considering signing onto a bill drafted by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that would give Congress the ability to accept or reject any nuclear deal. The push, several Senate sources said, is to prevent a veto-proof majority from building by heading off any fresh Democratic support for the plan and persuade supporters to keep their powder dry until the conclusion of multilateral negotiations with Iran.
The lobbying effort has come from all quarters. Obama has spoken directly with Democratic senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, including Ben Cardin of Maryland. Other senators who are weighing whether to join the legislative effort, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have been briefed by the likes of Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have reached out directly to senators, according to sources on Capitol Hill.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials signaled that they would not accept a deal that would require them to dismantle the Fordow enrichment facility or to stop building the heavy water reactor at Arak. Last week Iran's foreign minister and nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif leaked plans that the deal being discussed would involve having the United Nations Security Council lift all sanctions imposed on Iran for its illicit nuclear program.
Although President Barack Obama promised in November 2013, when the Joint Plan of Action was signed, that he would "continue to work closely with Congress," legislators have been frustrated by reports late last year that the president intended to bypass Congress when it came to any nuclear deal with Iran.