Right wing or unity? 4 scenarios for the next gov’t

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unlikely to be able to form a coalition with just the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and the other right-wing parties.

July 26, 2019 15:44
LIKUD AND BLUE and White campaign posters in Petah Tikvah in April

LIKUD AND BLUE and White campaign posters in Petah Tikvah in April. (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)

Shortly after becoming Israel’s finance minister in 2013, Yair Lapid flew to the United States and walked into a meeting with John McCain, the late senator from Arizona.

McCain was one of Israel’s strongest allies and staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill, and Lapid asked him what he was asking almost every politician he met at the time: “What advice would you give your younger self?”

McCain didn’t hesitate. Many people, he said, will tell you that in politics you will need to make compromises and sacrifices for the betterment of the country. The problem is that the betterment of the country never comes, and you, as a politician, are stuck with the compromise.

It is advice that has stuck with Lapid and continues to guide him, especially now ahead of the do-over election on September 17. The reason that it is still relevant is because no side of the political map – based on current polls – has a clear path to a parliamentary majority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unlikely to be able to form a coalition with just the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and the other right-wing parties, just like Blue and White will not be able to do so with just the parties from the center-left.

Add to this the general feeling – among the public as well as party leaders – that a third round of elections is not even an option, the question on everyone’s mind is: how will there be a coalition, and with whom?

There are four likely scenarios.

The first is that Netanyahu beats all predictions and succeeds in getting 61 without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. For now, that doesn’t seem likely.

The second scenario is that he fails to get 61 without Liberman – the man who denied him the government in May – but Yisrael Beytenu does another 180-degree flip and this time joins Netanyahu.

The third scenario is that Netanyahu fails to get 61, Liberman sticks to his guns, and the only path to a government is for Likud to join forces with Blue and White.

In this case, President Reuven Rivlin will be more active and will work to get Netanyahu and Benny Gantz together. First he will get them into the same room, and then he will tell them that they need to put aside their political differences and sit together for the betterment of the country. Gantz, who until now has rejected the possibility of joining a government run by a prime minister under indictment, will change his mind and become Netanyahu’s defense minister.

What happens to Blue and White in this scenario? It will likely fall apart. Lapid has said he will not sit with Netanyahu even if Gantz does. Knowing that will make Gantz’s decision all the more difficult.

The fourth scenario is that Blue and White remains united, sticks to its guns, and refuses to enter a coalition with Netanyahu, resulting again in a hanging government.

There are already rumblings in Likud on what would happen in this scenario. Blue and White is openly saying that its only problem is Netanyahu, but that they’d be happy to join forces with another Likud leader – Yuli Edelstein, Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan or Israel Katz – to create a coalition. Likud will push back on this, but it will largely depend on what will be the public’s reaction. The Likud might seem completely aligned behind Netanyahu today, but that could change on September 18.

With Liberman saying that he will support the party that comes out of Election Day with the most seats as the one that should form the coalition, and the New Right saying that it will not automatically recommend Netanyahu, both Likud and Blue and White understand that in order to win they need to be the biggest – and being the biggest will depend on voter turnout.

THE CHALLENGE will be how to ensure voter turnout while not helping the other side. In other words, if either party launches a nationwide “get out the vote” campaign, it will be helping the other side. One way to avoid this would be through targeted voter-turnout campaigns.

That is where big data will play a role. Instead of putting up billboards across the country calling on all people to vote, the parties will target areas where they stand a chance at making a difference, while focusing on people who are liable to cross party lines.

For Blue and White, for example, this means focusing on cities in the Gush Dan region, where some 40% voted for the party in April while 15%-20% voted for Likud. If it can keep its 40% and move over 5%-10% from the Likud, that could mean the difference between one and two extra seats and winning or losing the election.

Likud will be trying to do the same in its strongholds, in places like Jerusalem, Netivot and Beersheba. There, the numbers in April were just the opposite: Likud had about 40% of the vote, while Blue and White garnered about 10%-15%. Likud, too, will want to move a few percentage points over to its side.

When it comes to this political machination, Gantz might need to up his game. There are many differences between the former IDF chief of staff and Netanyahu. One was evident on April 9, when in the middle of the afternoon Netanyahu drove to the Netanya beach boardwalk and literally yelled at people to go vote.

He did so after getting a call from Likud Minister Ofir Akunis – a resident of north Tel Aviv – who told Netanyahu about the long lines outside the Tel Aviv polling stations (likely Blue and White voters), as well as the traffic jams on the roads to different beaches. Akunis was nervous that the beachgoers were Likud voters, and that instead of voting they were using the day off to enjoy the sun.

So Netanyahu did what a candidate fighting for his political career does: he went to the beach. What was Gantz doing around that time? He was driving home to rest ahead of the 10 o’clock exit polls. Later, when Netanyahu did a live, 90-minute Facebook video from his official residence calling mayors and urging them to get people to vote, Gantz had almost disappeared.

Gantz is like this because he is different than Netanyahu. He is not a politician or a political animal. While he finally started doing interviews over the last two weeks, it does not come natural to him. Neither does campaigning.

When he and Gabi Ashkenazi took a train to Acre this week – probably an attempt to show that they are meeting regular folks and are regular folks – the problem was that the picture they posted on Facebook was just of them. No one was standing around them on the train, and only one other person was talking to them. Now imagine a picture of the two of them surrounded by crowds of people laughing and smiling. What would have a bigger impact on the public?

Part of this is because Gantz can best be described by the Hebrew word mamlachti. There is no direct translation into English. Its meaning is a combination of statesmanship, respectful of the rule of law, not divisive, of someone who abides by a sense of political propriety.

Netanyahu is a statesman – one of the most prominent in the world – but he is not respectful of the rule of law. He also promotes divisiveness as opposed to trying to eliminate it from society.
In today’s era of populism, each approach has its advantages. Netanyahu stirs emotions, Gantz does not. To do that, for example, he has Lapid, who like Netanyahu has people who love him and others who cannot bear the thought of him as prime minister. Why? There is usually not a rational explanation. It is mostly emotional.

On September 17 we will know which approach works best so for the time being, here is one piece of advice - Go Vote!

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