Israeli politics: Center-Left rifts could mar efforts to unseat Netanyahu

"There is no room in the election for imaginary parties."

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and MK Yair Lapid (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and MK Yair Lapid
Day one of the 2021 election on Thursday featured infighting in the Center-Left camp that could make it even more difficult than expected to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whenever Israelis end up going to the polls.
The day began with opposition leader Yair Lapid calling upon his former partner in Blue and White, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, to run together under his leadership.
Lapid told Army Radio that "there is no room in the election for imaginary parties."
Blue and White responded that "Lapid was never and never will be an alternative to become prime minister, because he cannot build a government." The party that ran Lapid as its number two candidate in three elections, said he "failed as finance minister" and that Gantz would lead the Center-Left camp again in the election.
Following the split in Blue and White when the current government was formed, MK Moshe Ya'alon's Telem party remained in the opposition with Lapid in a joint faction. But Ynet reported on Thursday that Ya'alon intended to run in the election together with former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, instead of Yesh Atid.
The report said a study sponsored by political strategists found that among several options checked, a party of the two IDF chiefs of staff would be most successful at taking votes away from the block and helping ensure Netanyahu's defeat.
Ya'alon responded that he was willing to be a partner in any effort that could bring about a change in power, including a party led by Eisenkot. Sources in Yesh Atid responded that "if Ya'alon continued his undermining behavior, he would not be able to run together with Yesh Atid"  and "Ya'alon is just trying to get a higher place on our list."
KAN reported that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn complained in private conversations that he had been left out of decision-making in Blue and White by Gantz, who was only consulting with his top aides and not with his ministers and MKs.
A Panels Research poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday for The Jerusalem Post and Maariv found that if elections would be held now, Netanyahu's Likud would easily win the most seats, due in part to the split among his competition.
The Likud would win 29 mandates, Naftali Bennett's Yamina Party 22, Yesh Atid-Telem 18, the Joint List 11, Blue and White 10, Shas nine, Yisrael Beytenu Beytenu eight, United Torah Judaism seven and Meretz six. The poll of 541 respondents representing a statistical sample of the Israeli population had a margin of error of 4.3%.
Asked who was most fit to be prime minister, among respondents on the Right, 64% said Netanyahu, 23% Bennett, two percent Lapid, one percent Gantz and the rest did not know or said none of the above.
Among respondents who defined themselves as centrist or left-wing, 35% said Lapid, 26% Gantz, 24% none of the above, nine percent said they did not know, five percent said  Bennett and one percent Netanyahu.
A separate poll broadcast on Thursday night on Channel 12 asked what would happen if Yesh Atid-Telem ran together with Blue and White under Lapid's leadership. The poll found that the list would win 25 seats, two fewer than Yesh Atid-Telem and Blue and White would win running separately.
The poll found that among the current cohort of parties, the Likud would win 30 seats, followed by the religious-Zionist Yamina at 21, the centrist Yesh-Atid-Telem at 17, the Joint List at 12, Alternative Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Blue and White party at 10, followed by Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and the United Torah Judaism at 8 seats, and Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz at 7.
According to the poll, Labor, Gesher and The Jewish Home did not pass the electoral threshold.
If elections were held today, and in the event Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai joined Yesh Atid-Telem as second on the list headed by Yair Lapid, while other parties remained unchanged, the poll results would remain the same for Likud and the Right, while Yesh-Atid-Telem would have 21 seats.
In terms of preference for prime minister, Netanyahu continue to have a plurality of support from the public, with 33% preferring him, followed by Naftali Bennett at 18%, Yair Lapid at 13% and Benny Gantz at seven percent. On the question of blame for a fourth election in two years, 40% said Netanyahu is responsible, while 20% said Benny Gantz.
The Knesset House Committee will convene on Monday to advance the Knesset dispersal bill that passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. Further readings of the bill would require a date for the election.
Sources in Likud said Netanyahu wanted the race to be held as late as possible, in order to ensure that there would be vaccines. Yesh Atid and Yamina announced that they wanted the race held as early as possible. Different sources in Blue and White gave different answers, with one saying early February, another mid-March and another saying the party was undecided.
Meanwhile, Gantz told his Blue and White faction that coalition discipline would still be maintained by the faction in hopes of reaching a compromise on the state budget and avoiding elections.
Finance Minister Israel Katz has reached out to Gantz, requesting a meeting to present the budgets for 2020 and 2021. The two are expected to meet sometime next Sunday.
Blue and White announced Thursday that the faction would propose two bills ahead of the Israeli election. The first bill would aim to prevent the digital spread of propaganda, and the second is to limit the election budget given to each party.
On the Right, the Likud criticized Bennett, calling him "Liberman without a beard," after Yamina MK Matan Kahana said his party would not rule out a coalition with any Zionist party, including Meretz. Yamina faction head Ayelet Shaked clarified that "Meretz cannot be a partner, because they harm Israel, compare Israel to Nazis and do not want Israel to remain a Jewish state."
Cody Levine contributed to this report.