Netanyahu shouts ‘gevalt’ – but will it work again? - analysis

The last election ended with 30 seats for the Likud, and the second-largest party, Zionist Union, trailing far behind with 24.

April 8, 2019 03:07
3 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu – if they go to trial, how will his corruption trials end?

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu – if they go to trial, how will his corruption trials end?. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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The past few days, we’ve seen the return of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s famous “gevalt campaign” from 2015, named for the Yiddish expression of alarm, often paired with the interjection “oy!”

Netanyahu spent the last week of the previous election campaign giving interview after interview and warning that the right-wing government was in danger if people didn’t vote for the Likud. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what he’s been saying the past few days, as well.

The last election ended with 30 seats for the Likud, and the second-largest party, Zionist Union, trailing far behind with 24.

But this time, the downsides of Netanyahu shouting “gevalt” are greater than they were four years ago, and familiarity with the tactic may make it less effective.

Netanyahu has been in a low-grade “gevalt” mode since the beginning of the election season, warning that a vote for Blue and White would bring about a repeat of the Oslo Accords or the Second Intifada.

As the end of the campaign approaches, Netanyahu has promised to annex parts of the West Bank – which, while a common position in the Likud, is not one that he’d expressed so unequivocally – and that there won’t be a Palestinian state on his watch, both of which are stances of parties to the Likud’s Right.

And the panicked messaging from the Likud has been about the need for the party to be bigger than Blue and White, saying that President Reuven Rivlin plans to choose the leader of the largest party to form the next government if no one gets 61 recommendations to be prime minister.

Ironically, Netanyahu tried to pass a law last year that would force Rivlin to appoint the head of the largest party as prime minister. Now that is his nightmare scenario, since Blue and White has a slight lead in most of the final polls, and Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin has not committed to either side, despite being on the far Right, which would mean neither bloc has a majority, even if the Right is larger.

But the other right-wing parties – New Right, Yisrael Beytenu, Union of Right-Wing Parties, and to a lesser extent Kulanu – are wise to this tactic and immediately started pushing back against it. They have said there is no way they will sit in Gantz’s coalition, which means that a vote for them is still safely a vote for Netanyahu as prime minister.

And they warned that Netanyahu’s sharp Right turn could just be empty campaign promises. Unlike last time, other parties refused to hold a joint right-wing rally – leading to a planned Sunday-night event to be canceled – and they also would not join “Moving Right,” a Likud initiative to increase voter turnout.

And this brings us to the big risk Netanyahu is taking in his strategy to take votes from the satellite parties on the Right and bring them to Likud.

In 2015, none of those parties were in danger of dropping below the threshold.

This time, all of them have polled close to the threshold at some point, and Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu have repeatedly fallen below it. Moving too many of the smaller parties’ votes to the Likud could push parties out of the Knesset entirely, and make it even more difficult for Netanyahu to form the right-wing coalition that he has been promising.

Of course, this is only a risk for Netanyahu if he actually wants to form a right-wing government. Campaign promises are worth very little, and it’s entirely possible that if the Likud is the largest party, Netanyahu will ask Blue and White to join his government. Certainly Blue and White would be a more comfortable partner than URP or the New Right when considering US President Donald Trump’s expected peace plan, which would likely involve concessions of land and sovereignty.

At the same time, Blue and White has a problem with sitting with a prime minister under indictment, an entirely plausible scenario in the next few months, considering that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit recommended charging Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Whereas the haredi parties and most of the Right have said they would remain in Netanyahu’s government. That once again raises the point that pushing the Likud’s natural coalition partners below the threshold may leave Netanyahu without options.

In the end, the “gevalt” campaign may do Netanyahu and the Likud more harm than good when it comes to the end goal, forming the next government. But we’ll only know for sure on Wednesday morning, after all the votes are counted.

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