Elections in Israel are naturally viewed mainly as a competition between the biggest parties over which will end up with the premiership. Will Benjamin Netanyahu remain prime minister, or will he be replaced by Benny Gantz?
And then there are the two approaches to analyzing Likud and Blue and White’s position in the polls: by the bigger party or the bigger bloc. Since Blue and White came together, all the polls have showed them ahead of Likud. Last week’s polling average put Blue and White at 34 and Likud at 30. But almost every poll also shows the right-wing bloc being larger than the center-left bloc.
Still, these polling results also show that no matter how well Likud and Blue and White do in the election, other parties really determine the real outcome – specifically which and how many other parties pass the electoral threshold.
To some extent, other parties determine who will be prime minister in every election. When all the votes are counted, it’s the candidate with the recommendations from the most MKs who will be tasked with forming a government, not the head of the largest party.
And there’s often a party that’s considered the “election surprise” or the kingmaker that ends up being larger than expected, tipping the scales in favor of one side or other.
While that’s still possible for this election, it seems like this time, the real determining factor will be who stays afloat above the 3.25% electoral threshold.
There are several parties straddling the threshold in polls. Kulanu passes it most of the time, Yisrael Beytenu no longer does. United Arab List-Balad averaged below the threshold last week. Gesher, which looked like it would be the new star at the beginning of this race, only passed the threshold in one poll during the last week and a half. And now, Zehut has passed it in several polls. Shas is also dangerously close to the threshold – averaging five seats last week – and Meretz is only doing a bit better.
Netanyahu was aware of this danger weeks ago, which is why he worked so hard to get the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) together. Without Otzma Yehudit, Bayit Yehudi-National Union was among the straddlers. But with Otzma by their side, URP averaged seven seats in last week’s polls.
But that effort may not be enough. The right-wing bloc only has the narrowest of majorities in most polls, and if too many other parties drop below the threshold, Netanyahu may not get the recommendations he would need to be prime minister. Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu or Shas disappearing could destroy his chances entirely.
Gantz is in a different bind. The Center-Left is not likely to have a majority, which means he will probably have a very difficult time forming a coalition. That’s where Likud got its campaign slogan “Bibi or Tibi” – if all the politicians on the Right recommend Netanyahu, as they have promised, Gantz would have to rely on recommendations from Arab parties to even come close to getting enough votes. That, of course, doesn’t mean he would end up with UAL-Balad or Hadash-Ta’al in his coalition, since as things currently stand, they don’t want to be part of any Israeli government. And senior members of Blue and White haven’t expressed enthusiasm about the idea, either.
But if the Arab parties theoretically agree to recommend Gantz, UAL-Balad dropping off the map will make the point moot. And Meretz, which certainly won’t be recommending Netanyahu, would also have to make it over the threshold.
That brings us to the wild cards: Gesher and Zehut. Neither party’s leader – Orly Levy-Abecassis or Moshe Feiglin, respectively – has committed to recommending a specific candidate. But Feiglin has said that legalization of cannabis is a core issue for him, which led to Netanyahu mentioning he would consider the matter.
With four weeks left to the election, these parties can jump over or fall under the threshold several more times in the polls before the real vote happens. However they end up will likely be a determining factor in what Israel’s next government will be.