Bennett, the coalition, and the cold reality painted by polls – analysis

This poll showed that if a new election was held today neither the coalition nor the opposition would be able to form a government.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The threat by coalition parties to bring down the government unless they get their way on one issue or another is as much a part of Israel’s political game as the Knesset itself.

It happens in every coalition, and it happens with even greater frequency in narrow coalitions – such as the current one – where every party has outsized influence.

No one, therefore, should get too worked up by Ra’am and Meretz threats to trigger a coalition crisis – and even bring about new elections – over Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina). It’s all pretty par for the course.Ra’am’s threat comes against the background of the party’s differences with Shaked over the Electricity Law, with the Arab party accusing Shaked of trying to keep the Negev’s Bedouin out of the plan that would link homes built illegally to the country’s electricity grid.

Meretz threatened a coalition crisis if Shaked tried to bring back to the Knesset a revised version of the controversial Citizenship Law, which prevents Palestinians from gaining citizenship in order to live with their Israeli-Arab spouses inside Israel. The bill was defeated in July when the opposition parties voted against it in a bid to embrace the new government.

Before acting on these threats, however, both parties – in fact, all the coalition partners – would do well to look at the Panels Research poll conducted Thursday for The Jerusalem Post Group media outlets.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel (credit: REUTERS) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel (credit: REUTERS)

This poll showed that if a new election was held today, and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu remained the Likud leader, neither the coalition nor the opposition would be able to form a government. In other words, if the parties gamble and roll the dice yet again, the political logjam that led to four indecisive elections in two years would re-emerge.

It has now been nine months since the last election (and six months since the formation of the new government), and nothing significant has moved politically. There have been some slight movements, according to the poll, within the Right-Left blocs, but not between the two blocs. So if Meretz and Ra’am bring down the government hoping that it will change the coalition math to their benefit, they are likely to be disappointed.

The strength of the blocs has not changed: The coalition would win 57 seats, the four Jewish opposition parties 56, and the Arab Joint List would win seven.

Once again there would be no clear winner; once again the elections would render a political stalemate. The balance between the blocs would not change, and there would be a strong likelihood that these elections would spawn yet another – something the country can ill afford.

Interestingly, of the eight parties that make up the coalition, three would slightly improve their situation according to this poll – Yesh Atid would gain two seats, and Blue and White and Ra’am would gain one apiece. Labor would stay the same, and four of the coalition parties would lose ground.

In this poll, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party would be wiped out, not passing the electoral threshold and losing all of its six seats, while Meretz, Yisrael Beytenu and Yamina would each drop a seat from what they won the last time around.

While dropping a seat is obviously discouraging for Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz, for Yamina it must be particularly concerning, because it is losing seats even as its leader is running the country. If Yamina can’t attract voters when it is in control of the Prime Minister’s Office, then its prospects for ever being able to do so again are very slim.

What must be most frustrating for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is that he has not been able to gain any traction, and is losing some ground compared to the results of the last election, even though his first six months have been anything but a failure. 

What must be most frustrating for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is that he has not been able to gain any traction, and is losing some ground compared to the results of the last election, even though his first six months have been anything but a failure.

The new government he heads has shifted the country’s conversation away from all-Netanyahu, all-the-time; it demonstrated that parties with ideological differences can cooperate for the benefit of the collective; it passed a budget; it is engaged with the Americans over Iran; it has built on the Abraham Accords; and it has dealt as well as most other countries with the curveballs being thrown by the Coronavirus.

Despite the Likud’s dire predictions that everything would sink were Netanyahu not in power, the ship of state continues to sail – with the ship’s passengers not feeling that much of a difference as a result of the changes at the helm.

For those on the Center-Left, Bennett was useful in ousting Netanyahu. And even if they are not displeased with his overall performance, even if they might see him overall as a mensch, they disagree with him when it comes to the questions of the Palestinians and settlements, and are not going to vote for him.

For those on the Right, Bennett’s natural base, his willingness to break with the right-wing camp and form a government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas are unpardonable sins. Granted, he is not rushing headlong – or at all – into a Palestinian state, nor has he “sold out” the settlements. But the breaking of his campaign promises not to form a government with Lapid, and his teaming up with an Arab party, are perfidies they have not forgiven and, as the polls indicate, they will not forget.

By forming a government with Lapid, Abbas, Labor and Meretz last June, Bennett’s gamble was that he would do such a bang-up job as prime minister, that he would be able to regain the confidence of his natural base, and even expand it.

This latest poll shows that, at least so far, this gamble is not politically paying off.