In every election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought a convenient rival.
In one, he built up “Tzipi and Buji,” purposely referring to Zionist Union candidates Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni in reverse order of their seniority in the party. In another, he pretended he was running against Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi. And in a third, he spoke as if his opponent was then-US President Barack Obama.
This time, he first decided it was a two-man race between himself and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and ignored the prime ministerial candidates on the Right, Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett. But after Bennett and Sa’ar promised they would not serve in a Lapid-led government, leaving no possibility that Lapid could form a coalition, Netanyahu needed a new opponent.
The three-day Purim festival in Jerusalem inspired the prime minister to declare a three-headed rival: “Sa’ar-Bennett-Lapid.” In his current blitz of pre-election interviews, Netanyahu has poked fun at the three, saying that they would all rotate in the Prime Minister’s Office and make a mockery of the powerful post.
Netanyahu joked that the names of Sa’ar, Bennett and Lapid created an acronym “sevel,” which means suffering in Hebrew.
Lapid immediately tweeted in response that such a coalition was preferable to a government with another acronym. “Evel”, or mourning, he said, would be the acronym of a government of far right Otzma Yehudit Party head Itamar Ben-Gvir, Bibi and United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman.
The reason Netanyahu and Lapid are resorting to acronyms three weeks before the March 23 election is that the race between the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu camps is so close.
The difference between Netanyahu and Sa’ar, when interviewees were asked who is most fit to be prime minister, is only 1%, according to a Panels Research poll broadcast Monday on the 103 FM radio station, part of The Jerusalem Post Group, broadcast on Monday. In the smallest difference between Netanyahu and another candidate since the election date was announced, 43% said Netanyahu and 42% said Sa’ar.
The poll found that if elections were held now, the Likud would win 28 seats, Yesh Atid 19, New Hope 13, Yamina 11, the Joint List nine, Shas eight, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism seven and Labor six.
Three parties were predicted to win four seats: Blue and White, Meretz and the Religious Zionist Party. Each of them is teetering on the 3.25% electoral threshold. Any votes going to parties that do not cross the threshold do not count toward the distribution of seats in the Knesset.
The bloc that wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government - Likud, Shas, UTJ and the Religious Zionist Party - received 47 seats.
The bloc that does not want him to remain prime minister – Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Blue and White and Meretz – received 53.
Yamina could join forces with the anti-Netanyahu bloc and use its 11 seats to enable the formation of a government. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, has not ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu, but the poll found that even with Yamina, the prime minister would not have enough support.
But if Meretz or Blue and White fail to cross the threshold, the anti-Netanyahu bloc may not have enough seats for a majority.
The question of whether the Religious Zionist Party will cross the threshold will impact whether it will be possible for Netanyahu to form a government.
If neither side can form a government, Israelis will go back to the polls for a fifth time in two years. That would indeed bring suffering and mourning.