A central question of the upcoming election campaign is whether Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party merges with another one.
New Hope won six seats in the previous election and used them to help form the unity government. However, polls conducted since the upcoming elections were announced on June 20 showed the party maxing out at five seats, with most polls giving him four, which is just above the election threshold.
If Sa’ar does not pass the threshold, his votes will be discarded. If one party in the current coalition bloc does not pass the threshold, it may be enough to enable opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.
After Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced he won’t run and with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked taking over Yamina, New Hope is in trouble.
Shaked was less enthusiastic than Bennett about the importance of unity and never ruled out sitting under Netanyahu. So the option of a merger between Yamina and New Hope now seems unrealistic.
Ayelet Shaked vs Gideon Sa'ar
Sa’ar and Shaked will now need to fight for right-wing supporters who don’t want to vote Likud but also do not rule out Netanyahu as prime minister. If Shaked decides that Yamina will run alone, their duel over this specific electorate may be what eventually decides the outcome of the entire election.
The two did not waste time going at each other.
“Every person who votes for Ayelet Shaked knows that she will go with Netanyahu,” Sa’ar said in an interview earlier this week on Army Radio. “Even before the Knesset dissolved, she tried to form a government under his lead. This is a mistaken opinion, but legitimate.”
“Gideon, if you are blaming me for doing everything to prevent an election – I am guilty as charged,” Shaked tweeted in response. “I always act responsibly towards my country. This is the rule: I will do the best for the country in every scenario based on the ‘cards’ I am dealt.”
גדעון, אם אתה מאשים אותי בכך שהפכתי עולם למנוע הליכה לבחירות - אני מודה באשמה. אני תמיד מתנהלת באחריות כלפי המדינה שלי.הנה הכלל: בכל מצב, עם ה״קלפים״ שיש, אעשה מה שהכי טוב למדינה. רק יש לי שאלה: למה אתה ניהלת משא ומתן עם אנשי נתניהו במשך מספר שבועות, אם זה כל כך מפריע לך? pic.twitter.com/itZSkA8mSb— איילת שקד Ayelet Shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) July 4, 2022
Shaked also took a personal jab at Sa’ar. “Why did you conduct negotiations with Netanyahu’s people for a number of weeks if it bothers you so much?”
Sa’ar answered her on Twitter that “I withstood a test that no other politician could have handled. You know fully well, as someone who tried to convince me, that about a year ago I refused an offer by the Netanyahu bloc to serve as the first prime minister in a rotation. Everything – in order to form the government you are sitting in. Now I also received tempting offers – and I refused. Is there any person who believes that you would have withstood such a test?”
Mergers on the anti-Netanyahu Right
With a merger between Yamina and New Hope now almost certainly off the table, the obvious solution would be for Sa’ar to merge with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party.
But the party is not focusing on mergers at this point, a source close to Sa’ar said. None of the parties will discuss mergers until they have a consistent picture of their position vis-à-vis other parties based on both external and internal surveys.
Furthermore, if politicians even mention that they are considering a merger then the poll results will change. Voters should not expect to hear about mergers until later on, the source said.
Despite this, New Hope should not worry about its standing, since the party was both productive and cohesive over the past year, according to the source.
NEW HOPE was recently rated by the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel as the coalition party that fulfilled the highest percentage of its campaign promises and agreements. It also stood out as one of the parties that did not suffer defections, and very little internal strife was leaked to the media.
Even if it passes the threshold on its own, New Hope faces a conundrum. Sa’ar insists that he will not join a government led by Netanyahu, but assuming that the Likud leader is not planning to step down in the near future, New Hope will be forced into a unity coalition once again, and will be limited in advancing its right-wing agenda.
But proper governance is more important to New Hope than a right-wing agenda, the source said.
Sa’ar found that there were 70 unmanned positions in the Justice Ministry upon entering office.
This was because the Netanyahu-Gantz government did not agree on any appointments, both because of Netanyahu’s attempts to weaken the justice system and because the two sides did not work well together. This created a logjam at the top of the Justice Ministry. As a result, mid-level and lower-level workers were not promoted, and many left.
Just fixing this would take a year, Sa’ar said at the time. Since the Justice Ministry is responsible for the country’s legal functions to run properly, a dysfunctional ministry meant a dysfunctional legal system, hence a dysfunctional state. For New Hope, proper governance is more important than policy-based reform. If a unity government ensures this while a right-wing government does not, the choice is clear, according to the source.
In addition, in a democracy, there is no reason to be afraid of other opinions – and sitting in a government with ideological rivals forces you to sharpen your own convictions and set an example for proper debate, which is important in its own right, the source said.