The Israeli election: how the players line up

March 4, 2019 by Ron Weiser
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A month ago we raised three questions in regards to the forthcoming Israeli elections. 

Dr Ron Weiser

The first has been answered. 

A group of three ex-IDF Chiefs of Staff – Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi – have joined together with Yair Lapid to present the Israeli people an alternate leadership to that of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Aside from offering themselves as leaders, they have not been willing, nor have they been pushed, to explain any detailed policy platform of their new Blue and White party going forward, nor the apparent policy contradictions between the four leaders.

They are however promising to put out a policy platform during this week.

This new party and the Likud are the only two parties polling enough to be taken as serious contenders to produce the next Prime Minister of Israel.

The attorney general’s decision to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery, brings Israel into unchartered waters.

Neither party will of course achieve 61 seats and be able to rule in their own right, so the second question still remains unanswered – which party will actually be able to build a coalition, and for how long?

To further complicate matters, some parties have said they would join Netanyahu until the hearings and leave later if he is indeed charged.

Polling suggests that perhaps for the first time in many years a national unity government of Likud plus the Blue and White party may be in reach, and both Gantz and Lapid have said that the first party they will seek to make a coalition post-electionwith will be Likud. However, they insist, not as long as Netanyahu remains Likud’s leader.

Lapid said that if post-election his party is tasked by the President with forming the next government “We won’t form a government with the Arab parties, we will contact Likud — the post-Netanyahu Likud, that is — to form a national unity government at this time of division and rifts.

It will be a very broad government that will be capable of accomplishing many goals,” Lapid said. “Of course, Likud will be one of… if not the first phone call to form a government. Likud is, after all, an important Zionist party, it has good people and its slate for the next Knesset is not bad.”

As much as many political parties and commentators will try and portray this as a left vs right election, it’s not. 

It’s about the pro-Netanyahu camp vs the anti-Netanyahu camp.

Ultimately this election is a referendum on Prime Minster Netanyahu himself.

It’s hard to paint the Blue and White party as leftists per se, with three ex Chiefs of Staff, one of whom, Ya’alon is on record as being opposed to Oslo and who says that under no circumstances can a Palestinian State ever come into being.

Lapid and Gantz have both stated that Jerusalem can never be divided, that the settlement blocks must remain inside Israel finalised borders and that no Palestinian partner currently exists and moreover there can be no Palestinian state in the foreseeable future.

But where the left/right issue really comes from, is in terms of coalition building.

And here the 3.25% threshold is also important. In order to enter the Knesset a party must get 3.25% of the votes (approximately 4 Knesset seats). If a party gets less, all of their votes are lost and cannot be allocated to another party.

So if smaller parties with similar ideologies run against each other and fail to reach the threshold, all of their votes are lost.

Both of the two main blocks face some uncertainty as to whether some of their potential coalition partners will even pass the election threshold

For Gantz’s Blue and White party the mathematical equation will be very difficult when it comes to potential coalition partners. Labor is polling poorly and the ultra-leftwing Meretz party which the Blue and White party do not want to be publically associated with pre-election, is polling near the threshold.

Post-election,Blue and White will need Meretz’s support either formally inside the coalition or from the outside. 

Moreover, the Israeli Arab parties (polling around 13 seats) who Gantz will definitely not make coalition partners, will still have to support his coalition from the outside in order for him to make the numbers.

It is that support tacit or otherwise, of Meretz and the Israeli Arab parties that in the main, enable Netanyahu supporters to talk about Gantz being a ‘leftist’.

For Netanyahu the mathematics is just a little better, but by no means assured.Potential coalition partner Lieberman is also polling around or below the threshold.

Naphtali Bennett and Ayelet Shakedwho walked out on their own party to form a new one, are polling about as well as Labor. Which means not too well at all, but enough above the threshold.

Bennett has yet to be able to demonstrate real popularity with the electorate, but believes that if he hangs in there long enough to outlast Netanyahu, he will be the next natural leader of this block. Some Likud contenders will of course disagree.

All of which drove Netanyahu to convince Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) to take in the ultra-rightwing OtzmaYehudit – ideological descendants of the banned for being racist, Kach party.

His rationale for this deal with the devil which has been so criticised particularly by western Jewish Diaspora organisations, is to not lose the votes in the Netanyahu coalition camp because of the possible failure of Jewish Home and/or Otzma Yehudit to pass the threshold.

Whilst Diaspora criticism will not be a factor in Netanyahu’s immediate race to win yet another term, what could worry him much more is if traditional Jewish Home voters desert the party, as many will find this deal to be simply unacceptable.

Current Netanyahu coalition partner, Kulanuare the only party within the present coalition to not have stated one way or the other whether they will stick with Netanyahu or jump to Blue and White. They and their leader Kahlon, are also polling dangerously close to the threshold and may possibly not be in the next Knesset in any case.

The ultra-orthodoxparties do not appear to be gaining electoral strength either, but have thrown their hat into the ring behind Netanyahu.

It now depends on the voter effect Mandelblit’scharges will have, and in the event votes do drift from a Netanyahu led Likud, whether they remain as seems on current polling, within potential coalition partners rather than moving to Gantz whose electoral gains likewise appear to be from his own potential coalition partners – meaning on current trends that the overall balance of the potential blocks do not change, depending however, on the all-important effect of the threshold.

Which brings us to the third question from last month – what will President Rivlin dopost-electionif voters will bring Likud and Blue and White very close to each other and who will he invite to make the firstattempt at a coalition?

Netanyahu or Gantz, or even Likud led by someone who replaces Netanyahu as leader?

Just as Netanyahu is trying to portray Gantz as a leftist, parties on the ultra-right are in turn trying to portray Netanyahu himself as a leftist whom they need to protect Israel from, whilst supporting him as the best candidate currently available.

The New Right party led by Bennett and Shaked state that they will support Netanyahu for Prime Minister, but they warn the electorate to vote for the New Right in order to keep Netanyahu honest and to stop him from post-election, caving in to what they say is the Trump Peace plan’s proposals for a future Palestinian state.

So who can form a coalition?

There are just too many known and unknown variables to confidently predict anything, but onbalance as it stands in the polls currently, one would still have to give the odds to Netanyahu by a very very slim majority.

And the potential for a second election not too far away, is becoming greater.

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