Israel elections: Are we barreling toward a sixth election round? - analysis

This time around, Netanyahu is not going anywhere. As a result, the country is staring down the barrel of yet another deadlocked election.

 WHO WILL greet Biden? Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid or Benjamin Netanyahu? (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
WHO WILL greet Biden? Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid or Benjamin Netanyahu?
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Sunday morning radio news bulletins opened with the “dramatic” news that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel were no longer a political thing.

That’s right, fully 45 days after announcing a new political party called the Zionist Spirit, the two split. And like two people who had called it quits after dating for just a month and a half, Hendel said he initiated the breakup, while Shaked countered: “No, I broke up with you.”

The reason for the breakup: whether or not the party would form a narrow right-wing coalition with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at its head. Shaked is willing, Hendel is not.

So it’s over.

Drama, however, is very much in the eye of the beholder. How dramatic, really, is the disappearance of a political party that since its formation on July 27 only managed to cross the electoral threshold and gain four seats in five of the 31 major polls taken since then, the last time being on August 12?

 Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel at Hamacabia Village in Ramat Gan, on July 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel at Hamacabia Village in Ramat Gan, on July 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

In other words, this is far from earth-shattering political news. It’s not as if tens of thousands of potential voters are now tearing out their hair wondering what they will do without the Zionist Spirit to vote for, because there were apparently not tens of thousands of potential Zionist Spirit voters out there in the first place.

And that was not the only “big” piece of political news that the country woke up to on Sunday.

The other was reports about the meeting brokered by Prime Minister and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid the day before between Meretz head Zehava Galon and Labor head Merav Michaeli. The reason for that meeting: Lapid wants those two parties to run as one, apparently afraid that one of those two parties might not cross the 3.25% voter threshold, badly damaging his path back into the premiership. While Galon is willing to merge, Michaeli is not.

This, too, is not news that is going to make or break the next elections.

In the abovementioned 31 polls taken since July 27, the two parties running separately are together garnering between nine to 11 seats. The two most recent polls, one published Saturday night and another on Friday, had Meretz winning six seats to Labor’s five in the former, and Meretz winning five seats to Labor’s four in the latter.

Other surveys over the last month and a half have them both getting five seats, or Labor getting five, and Meretz four seats. Only in a single poll from August 12 did one of the two parties – Meretz – fail to pass the electoral threshold.

So here, too, whether Meretz and Labor merge is not the stuff of great political drama that will significantly alter the electoral math.

The harsh reality is that as the country closes in on the Thursday deadline for parties to submit their final Knesset lists, there is unlikely to be any major development that will lead to a break in the country’s frustrating political logjam. No new party is going to come on to the scene, no one new merger is going to be created, no one new personality will emerge that will significantly shake things up.

And that is not for a lack of trying. Shaked and Hendel hoped their merger would make a difference. It did not.

Why didn't this center-right party work? 

Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar hoped they would create a new political reality by joining forces and entering the campaign as one party: The National Unity Party. They haven’t. The numbers that they are polling as one party is no more – and in some polls actually less – than what they were polling as separate parties running independently.

And no new faces have emerged to significantly make a difference. Former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot entered the race with a good degree of fanfare as part of the Gantz-Sa’ar party, but his joining the race barely moved the needle. The entrance of yet another former chief of staff into politics has made no real difference.

There is only one new thing that could potentially alter the political map and break the logjam: were Netanyahu either to voluntarily leave the scene, or were the Likud to do to their longtime leader what the Conservatives in Britain did to their leader Boris Johnson earlier this summer: show him the door.

Where is Israel headed?

But neither of those scenarios is going to happen.

Netanyahu will not go gentle into the political night, and the Likud – at least not this time – will not force him out. There is mumbling that if Netanyahu fails to form a stable right-wing government for the fifth consecutive time, then the Likud – which according to the polls would easily be able to join up with other parties and form a stable government were Netanyahu not at the party’s helm – might say enough is enough.

But that is next time. Netanyahu is not going anywhere this time.

Israel's history will repeat itself.

As a result, the country is staring down the barrel of yet another deadlocked election, with the polls showing that neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc, nor the anti-Netanyahu-bloc, will be able to muster enough seats to build a viable and sustainable coalition.

Looking at the results of the last four elections, as well as projections from an average of the polls for the upcoming elections, the degree to which things have stayed the same is stunning, though understandable.

The pro-Bibi (Netanyahu) block garnered 60 seats in the first election in this current endless cycle in April of 2019, followed by 55 six months later, 58 in March 2020, 52 a year later in March 2021 and – according to an average of the polls since the elections were called over two months ago – it will likely pick up 59 seats in November. Though the distribution of the seats among the parties on the Right, and the identity of those parties, changes from election to election, the results stay pretty much the same.

The same is true in the anti-Netanyahu bloc as well. It is as if the country is split into two different dining halls, with the same number of people eating in the same hall for each meal. The seats may be configured a bit differently on each occasion, giving the dining hall a different feel, but it contains the same number of people in the same hall each time around.

But why should it be different? Since the first election in 2019, you have the same candidates – more or less – running on the same platforms, more or less, to win over the same voters. Neither the composition of the country nor the parties have changed that much in three and a half years, nor have the issues changed that radically.

So why, then, should anyone expect different results?

Unless, of course, Netanyahu were no longer involved, something that won’t happen this time, but very well could happen if the country is forced into an increasingly possible – and once thought unthinkable – sixth election since April 2019.