New polling for Pew Research Center gives insight into a potential coalition crisis that may have been brewing.
In the US-based researcher's findings, a staggering 93% of haredi or religious voters support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When adjusting for polling errors, this can be as high as 97%.
Netanyahu has successfully billed himself over the years as a friend of the religious community to much-perceived success. This is also evidenced by his current governing coalition, which is upheld with the support of the haredi and religious Zionist parties.
Recent reporting has led some to believe that the premier may be considering revamping his coalition and replacing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party with opposition parties Yesh Atid, led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, and National Unity, led by Benny Gantz.
These reports were largely in response to leaks surrounding terms of a potential peace deal with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The agreement, which is currently being brokered in talks led by the United States, may be contingent on forming a unity government, land swaps, or announcing the permanent decision to not annex parts of Judea and Samaria. This was outlined in a piece last week by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times.
This immediately spun up questions of whether Netanyahu would ditch Smotrich and Ben-Gvir for Lapid and Gantz, with reporters yelling the question at every passing minister as they entered last Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Pundits dismissed this as impossible, mostly due to the fact that Lapid and Gantz, the former more pronounced, have stated that they will not join a governing coalition with Netanyahu. Lapid stated that he wouldn’t join “because I am a decent man, and that would be the death of decency.”
Considering an alteration to his government could cost Netanyahu severely
However, recent polling shows that it would not be in the prime minister’s best interest to even entertain such a possibility. If the polling is correct, Netanyahu has as rock-solid of a base as any politician could ever ask for. To abandon that base would be to put any potential unity government in immediate peril of disbanding, particularly because he would be putting the government’s stability in the hands of the people who have professed their deep desire to uproot him from power.
This polling could also be a reason for those on the Left who constantly say that the prime minister is not really in charge and that he is wholly beholden to his religious counterparts in government. In essence, this would make sense, as if the religious parties turned on him, there would be no government.
The reality of such deep support from the religious parties also makes any land swaps the furthest thing from possible reality. Being that the voters in the settler bloc are mostly religious, Netanyahu could find himself in a situation where there are protests much larger than he saw in Tel Aviv - this time because people do not want to be kicked out of their homes. Or worse, active military deciding not to serve, considering a majority of the nation’s combat soldiers are from a religious background.
Of course, any conversation on land swaps must include a recognition of the Basic Law: Referendum, which stipulates that a majority of voters must decide in a nationwide referendum to give up land. This could be overridden by 80 votes in the Knesset, which again could never happen with the current makeup of the government. This is without considering how many Likud MKs would walk away from the coalition if such moves were to pass.
With this said, Netanyahu could be in an extremely strong negotiating position with the Saudis. Already the Saudis have expressed that the Palestinians are not a focus of theirs; they are concerned about US protection in a potential war with Iran and a civilian nuclear program.
This begs the possibility that an agreement could be ironed out even without US backing, considering both Netanyahu’s and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s disdain for Washington’s current leadership. Though at the end Biden would likely cave if a deal was imminent even if it left out the Palestinians to score a political win in the year leading up to the 2024 US presidential election.
As such, any talks of the prime minister switching up his cabinet to please the US administration are likely to fall on deaf ears among his allies, close advisors, and most importantly - the prime minister - who would be wise to see where his support stands, and where it doesn’t.