The approaching elections are the second time in the electoral history of the State of Israel that the elections will be decided not only on the basis of the achievements of the lists that actually pass the electoral qualifying threshold (which today stand at 3.25%), but on the basis of the votes given to the lists that fail to cross it, and are consequently considered “lost votes.”
In the 1992 elections, so it has been argued, one of the main causes for the Yitzhak Rabin’s victory was that 65,185 right-wing votes were lost because four small right-wing lists did not pass the 1.5% qualifying threshold that prevailed at the time.
This analysis is not completely accurate, because even if the “lost votes” would have been counted as part of the right-wing bloc, Rabin’s Labor Party still had a majority, for the simple reason that Shas decided to join his coalition.
Would Shas have decided otherwise, if the 65,185 right-wing votes had not been lost? Perhaps, but we shall never know.
It should also be noted that in the 1992 elections Labor received 44 seats, Meretz received 12 and the Likud 32. In the current elections the predictions are that Labor will receive six to seven seats, Meretz might fail to pass the qualifying threshold, and the Likud will consider it a great victory if it receives more than 30 seats.
Times have changed, the large parties are no longer as large as they used to be, but the game has remained the same, and when the society is more or less split down the center politically, as it was in 1992, and has been since the first 2019 elections, under the current Israeli political system it might be the parties that do not pass the qualifying threshold that determine the outcome.
In the current elections the number of lists that are considered borderline cases is four (if we leave out Yaron Zelekha’s Economic Party, which is nowhere even near the qualifying threshold). Of the four, one – the Religious Zionist Party – will definitely go with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if it passes the qualifying threshold. Another – Ra’am (an Arab party) – is expected to support a government headed by Netanyahu, if it passes the qualifying threshold, though Netanyahu has stated that it will not form part of his coalition. The third, Meretz, and the fourth, Blue and White, are definitely part of the “just not Bibi” bloc, and the state of both is deceiving because there are rumors that Likud supporters tell pollsters that they are going to vote Meretz or Blue and White, to try to create the impression that these parties will pass the qualifying threshold, and on judgment day – March 23 – the reality will emerge – one of many current rumors that might or might not be true.
Whether Netanyahu will manage to form a government depends on a combination of three factors: how many votes Yamina will receive; whether the Religious Zionist Party and/or Ra’am will or will not pass the qualifying threshold; and whether Meretz and/or Blue and White will or will not pass the qualifying threshold. Whether the other bloc will have the option to form a government depends on the same three factors.
In other words, if the Religious Zionist Party and Ra’am pass the qualifying threshold as far as Netanyahu is concerned, he will nevertheless need Yamina to be able to form a government, but it can be a smaller Yamina.
In order to form a government, the “just not Bibi” bloc will need both Meretz and Blue and White to pass the qualifying threshold, or to leave the contest at the last moment if the polls show that they are definitely beneath the qualifying threshold.
This bloc will also require a situation in which Netanyahu will not have a majority even with Yamina, which could happen if the Religious Zionist and/or Ra’am fail to pass the qualifying threshold.
With regards to what is liable to happen in the “just not Bibi” camp, the Likud, including Netanyahu, seem to be deliberately spreading false information to the effect that right-wingers who will vote for Yamina or New Hope will be voting for a government led by the Left, since the largest party in the “just not Bibi” bloc is Yesh Atid.
Besides the fact that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is not a leftist but a centrist, the fact that Yesh Atid is the largest party in the bloc doesn’t necessarily mean that Lapid will form a government should the bloc have the required majority. Both Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar have stated that they will not sit in a government under Lapid, but both have also declared that they have no problem sitting with Lapid. Lapid, on his part, has declared that if getting rid of Netanyahu means foregoing the premiership, there are things more important than one’s ego.
In fact, the truth is that a vote for Sa’ar is a vote to strengthen the rightists in the “just not Bibi camp,” while a vote for Bennett can end up either strengthening Netanyahu or strengthening the “just not Bibi camp” – that is, if we believe Bennett that no matter what happens, he will do everything he can to prevent fifth elections.
Of course, we can believe or disbelieve all the statements made by all the political leaders, though some of the statements are fake news to begin with.
MY OWN feeling is that if Netanyahu will fail to get the 61 seats he requires to form a government, even with Bennett, the other side will manage to form a government, headed by either Sa’ar or Bennett.
My own preference is Sa’ar because I believe that he has the qualifications and ability to handle a government with a very diverse membership (from Meretz, if it gets through, to Yamina), while ridding our government system of some of the worst ailments that have spread in it during the last six years of Netanyahu’s rule: a culture of vulgar cockiness, lies, fake news, petty corruption, broken promises and systematic incitement against opposition groups.
The thought of a government made up of the Likud minus most of its liberal elements; the ultra-Orthodox parties, which harbor a very strong resentment against the secular sections of the population, which have accused the ultra-Orthodox population of much of the responsibility for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic; a nationalist-religious list made up of racist and homophobic messianics and Kahanists, in which Yamina plays the role of balancing “moderate” – is a nightmare for many of us.
I realize, of course, that there are also many Israelis for whom the thought of a government that is anything but pure right-wing-religious is a nightmare. It looks as if the approaching elections are going to be about whose nightmare will turn into reality.
The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to appear in English.