Analysis: No elections on the horizon

With everyone abuzz about talk of a “coalition crisis” and an election around the corner, Gafni said Thursday: “I predict that there will not be elections in the near future.

March 23, 2017 22:57
4 minute read.
Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, Co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, are pictured together as campaign billboards rotate in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)

New elections? Fuggedaboutit.

That, at least, is the assessment of United Torah Judaism politician Moshe Gafni.

With everyone abuzz about talk of a “coalition crisis” and an election around the corner, Gafni said Thursday: “I predict that there will not be elections in the near future; no one in the political system has an interest in them.”

Gafni should have been more precise with his words.

It is not as if no one has an interest in them, because certainly Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog would like to see an election now. Those who have no interest are the members of the coalition: UTJ, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu, Bait Yehudi, Kulanu and the Likud.

None of those six parties really wants to go to an election now. They might threaten elections, or say they don’t care if there are elections, but it’s all wind.

First of all Gafni’s party, with its six Knesset seats, and Shas, with its seven, don’t want an election. Those two parties – left out of the last government – are doing quite well in this coalition, in terms of both funding and stymieing efforts to enlist haredim into the army. An election could result in their nemesis – Lapid – being charged with setting up the next government.

Why risk it? Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu definitely has no interest in elections. Liberman’s dream is to be prime minister. For that two things need to happen: First, he has to prove himself as a responsible actor. And second, he will have to somehow merge with the Likud so that he could challenge for national leadership from there.

Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi also has no interest in bringing down this government, despite the overheated rhetoric of folks like Bezalel Smotrich, Shuli Moalem and Bennett himself. They will scream and shout that Netanyahu needs to be building throughout the Land of Israel, and that if he doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity with a new, more favorable administration in Washington, then his government has no right to exist; but they will not pull the plug.

In the final analysis Bayit Yehudi understands that if US President Donald Trump says Israel cannot build outside the settlement blocs and Jerusalem, but can build inside those areas, that is a situation that – while it might not meet their maximalist aspirations – is much better than what existed under Barack Obama.

Under Obama, the State Department issued condemnations of housing plans in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot. If the Trump administration will not only allow building in all the post- 1967 neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but also in the settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel, it is hard to imagine Bayit Yehudi bringing down the government over this. Do they really think that the next government would fare any better? Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party also don’t want an election, despite Kahlon’s posturing that he is willing to force one if Netanyahu reneges on the deal to create the Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

The last thing in the world Kahlon wants right now is an election, before he has left any mark in the Finance Ministry.

Housing prices have not dropped, nor is the cost of living better for the average Israeli. What exactly would he run on? Besides, the polls are showing him now dropping from 10 seats to six.

Which leaves Netanyahu and the Likud, neither of which has an interest in breaking up the coalition, largely because there is no guarantee they would win again. The polls are shining brightly on Yesh Atid, which is consistently out-polling the Likud week after week. Even though the polls are showing that Lapid would have a very difficult time forming a coalition, in politics anything is possible, so there is still a considerable risk in going back to the people.

Two main theories have been posited for why Netanyahu might want an election now. The first is a somewhat convoluted theory that during an election campaign, the police would have to call off their investigations of the prime minister. Unlikely.

Even if that were the case, Netanyahu would not to want to face the electorate with a number of cases open against him.

The second theory is that if he goes to the ballot box, he will be able to wiggle out of a promise he made to the Amona evacuees that he will build them a new settlement, because of constraints placed on him by Trump. But this, too, seems far-fetched. Will the prime minster risk his political future in order to get out of a promise? Unlikely.

He can just back out of the promise. It won’t be the first time a politician has not fulfilled a pledge.

So if Netanyahu has no interest in an election, why threaten one? Simple: to keep his coalition partners in line. Netanyahu is showing everyone that all the threats and ultimatums coming from inside the coalition are empty, because maintaining the current framework currently serves the interests of all the parties in it; destroying it does not. Netanyahu know this, and after this week’s “coalition crisis,” everyone else knows it as well.

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