Will September elections bring another stalemate?

Left and Right blocs remain in tight race after party mergers

August 1, 2019 17:00
Will September elections bring another stalemate?

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett visit Efrat on July 22. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

With fewer than 50 days before the September do-over election, all polls show a similar picture: neither the Left nor the Right blocs will emerge with a majority, and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu will hold the balance of power.
Likud and Blue and White are running neck and neck or the Likud has a slight advantage (depending on the specific poll), but the most optimistic projection only gives the right-religious bloc 58 seats whereas the center-left-Arab bloc receives 53 seats – both falling short of the 61-seat majority required in the 120-seat Knesset.
Liberman, who has vowed not to sit in a coalition with Haredi or “messianic” right-wing parties, is polling consistently around the 10-seat mark, meaning his party is on course to emerge as the linchpin after the September 17 vote. He has already made clear that he will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin a unity government comprising the Likud and Blue and White, together with Yisrael Beytenu.
It was Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu-led coalition after the April election – due to differences over drafting the ultra-Orthodox – that resulted in the dissolving of the Knesset. After new elections were set for September 17, Likud officials vowed they would not form a future government with Yisrael Beytenu.
Toward the end of July, in a dramatic reshuffle on the left, former prime minister Ehud Barak decided to run on a joint list with Meretz under the name Democratic Union, but the merger, while ensuring that votes for Meretz and Barak would not be wasted, merely redistributed votes within the center-left bloc.
Barak, 77, retired from politics in 2013 but returned a few months ago to form his own party, saying he was determined to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “rule with the radicals, racists and the corrupt.”
He agreed to take the No. 10 slot on the joint list but will reportedly have the first pick of a ministerial portfolio in the event that Democratic Union forms part of the next government.
Heading the new list will be Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, followed by Stav Shaffir, who defected from Labor.
A leading campaigner for social issues, Shaffir came in second place in the Labor primaries in early July but was angry that the new Labor leader, Amir Peretz, refused to agree to a merger of all the parties on the Left.
In order to facilitate running with Meretz, Barak issued a public apology to the families of 13 Arab citizens killed by police during protests in 2000 at the start of the second intifada, when he was prime minister.
The apology was facilitated by Meretz MK Esawi Frej, an Arab citizen who had earlier spoken against the merger with Barak because of the killings in 2000.
In a joint news conference with Barak and Shaffir to launch Democratic Union, Horowitz said the Israeli Left was becoming a strong and significant force again.
“We are embarking on a path that in a month and a half will lead to replacing the leadership and to a social change,” he said. “We will defend Israel from the racism, corruption, occupation and religious coercion of the Netanyahu government.”
Polls after the launch showed the Democratic Union winning between 10 and 12 seats, with Labor the big loser, dropping to 5 to 7.
Ahead of Shaffir’s decision to bolt, Labor’s new leader Amir Peretz concluded a controversial merger with Orly Levy-Abecassis, head of the Gesher party, which failed to gain Knesset representation in the April vote. Levy-Abecassis will be No. 2, and was promised two other slots for Gesher in the top 10 of the united list. Peretz and Levy-Abecassis also agreed that there would be no further mergers for their parties.
Barak hoped that the pact with Levy-Abecassis, who was a noted campaigner for social issues when she served as a Yisrael Beytenu MK, would attract voters from the “soft Right” and particularly from the social-economic and geographical periphery. However, the initial polls following the merger showed no noticeable shift between the blocs.
The Democratic Union was still hoping to woo other leading figures, including former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, ahead of the August 1 deadline for presenting Knesset lists for the September election.
Intensive last-minute contacts also took place among the parties to the right of the Likud, in an effort to form a joint list to ensure there would be no repeat of the April election when hundreds of thousands of votes were lost due to the New Right and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party failing to cross the threshold.
The reemergence of the New Right – this time led by Ayelet Shaked, who replaced Naftali Bennett as party leader – prompted pressure for a unified list, together with Bayit Yehudi and the National Union.
Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz agreed that Ayelet Shaked would head the list as all the polls showed she could attract the most votes.
“There are still gaps and controversies, but they are not major,” said Shaked. “I expect my friends – Bayit Yehudi chairman Rabbi Rafi Peretz and National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich – to make every effort, just as I have been doing over the past month, in order to merge the entire spectrum of religious-Zionism parties, as well as the secular ideological right.”
However, the list is a technical bloc that in all likelihood will split after the election. The New Right, led by Shaked, will operate as a separate Knesset faction, as will the Union of Right-Wing Parties headed by Rafi Peretz.
Another technical bloc of sorts also emerged in the Arab sector, where the four main parties – Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad – agreed at the end of July, after weeks of negotiations, to run on a united list.
Heading the slate will be Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, who expressed the hope that the reemergence of the Joint List will boost voter turnout among Israeli Arabs to over 70%, compared with just under 50% in the April election, when the Arab parties ran separately.
According to the polls, the Joint List is projected to win 10 to 11 seats.
While much more can happen until September 17, it appears that the result could be very similar to the last poll on April 9 – and that’s when the situation could get really interesting.

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