Winners, losers in the merger mess - Analysis

Now the real campaigns begin

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu rally their voters a day before elections 2019.  (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT / MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu rally their voters a day before elections 2019.
On the eve of the previous election’s deadline for Knesset lists to be submitted to the Central Elections Committee, only 160 days ago, political drama hit a peak as Yesh Atid merged with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party to form Blue and White.
This time around, the only drama on the eve of the deadline was whether the far-right Otzma Yehudit would be sixth or eighth on a united Right list, or end up running alone. As usual in Israel, the decision was left for the last minute.
Now that the deadlines have passed and final lists have been submitted, parties can focus on marketing themselves to voters, and the election campaign can begin in earnest.
This is a good opportunity to look back at the merger mess to evaluate who emerged successful, and who wishes the outcome would have turned out differently.

• Ayelet Shaked: Sara Netanyahu blocked her from entering Likud, but she is a force to be reckoned with now as the leader of a united party to Likud’s right. After she was more surprised than anyone when she received the Justice portfolio in 2015, she could command an even higher post with a good performance on September 17. The question remains, however, how much power Naftali Bennett still holds over her. It was his decision to leave out Otzma Yehudit from their alliance, and there have been reports that she agreed to give him the highest portfolio.
• Ehud Barak: Just a few weeks ago he was being left for dead, as neither Labor nor Meretz wanted to merge with him. But thanks to Stav Shaffir, who did not take no for an answer, the left-wing bloc Barak wanted has been formed. It does not matter to him that he is 10th on the Democratic Union list. He doesn’t care about another MK stint, and is only concerned with defeating Netanyahu. He believes the chances of that have improved.
• Meretz: Instead of talk of the far-left party not crossing the threshold, Meretz is back in style again. Leader Nitzan Horowitz strengthened the party by making the alliance with Barak, and has received good press. However, since its formation, Democratic Union has been falling in the polls. It will constantly need new buzz to remain relevant.

• Benjamin Netanyahu: He watched the right-wing parties defy him by failing to unite. On Wednesday he told the MKs closest to him that he is worried about voter turnout, and about being blamed for the second election of 2019. Now he will have to walk a fine line with his criticisms within his political camp while keeping the Right strong.
• Rafi Peretz: He said repeatedly on TV that Shaked cannot lead the list. Not only is she first, he lost the moderate image he earned during the Gaza disengagement through a series of embarrassing statements. He can use the start of the school year to try to become a unifying figure, or his time in politics could be limited.
• Amir Peretz: He took the gamble of his life by reaching a deal with Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher party instead of Meretz. He will need to prove that he took two or three seats from Likud to Labor, or his political career could be over on September 18.