10 predictions for Israeli politics in 2019

After a week in which Bayit Yehudi and the Zionist Union both surprisingly split, making political predictions about the Israeli election has never been more foolish.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018
In the Talmud’s tractate Bava Batra, Rabbi Yohanan says that “since the Holy Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.”
After a week in which Bayit Yehudi and the Zionist Union both surprisingly split, making political predictions about the Israeli election has never been more foolish.
But it’s fun to play ball with a crystal ball, so here are 10 political predictions for 2019.
Netanyahu wins ‘midterm elections’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily wins the April 9 election, despite the bribery indictment pending a hearing announced in February. But more than 61 MKs announce that when the post-hearing indictment comes by the end of 2019, they won’t sit in a government under him. Netanyahu refuses to step down as Likud leader, and no other party leader is able to form a government, leaving no choice but for another election to be initiated, which will take place in 2020. This increasingly likely scenario is why Army Radio host Razi Barcay has referred to this race as “Israel’s midterm elections.”
A dozen Likud candidates to replace Netanyahu
When Netanyahu finally steps down by the end of 2019, there are 12 candidates to replace him as the Likud leader. After there were nine candidates for the Labor Party leadership, six for head of Meretz and seven for Jerusalem mayor, becoming only the fifth leader of the Likud and its predecessor Herut is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The list of candidates includes Naftali Bennett, whose party merges with the Likud, 10 other men and Miri Regev.
Gantz’s party briefly leads in polls
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz succeeds in drafting a list that includes fellow former chiefs of staff Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi but wisely rejects Ehud Barak, who repels voters. He also drafts socioeconomic figures like Adina Bar-Shalom and Michael Biton, he but does not succeed in wooing new Gesher Party leader Orli Levy-Abecassis. Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party briefly passes the Likud in polls. The party splits after the election, when Gantz becomes defense minister, Ya’alon opposition leader and Ashkenazi quits politics.
Zionist Union divorce fallout
Stubborn Labor leader Avi Gabbay wins his party only six seats, but he declares victory because Hatnua, led by Barak and Tzipi Livni, does not cross the threshold. Following the failure, Livni takes a job at the United Nations, where she tries to push Israel to withdraw from West Bank land, while Barak returns to Labor.
When Gabbay is forced out, the next Labor leadership race is between then 77-year-old Barak and 34-year-old Stav Shaffir. During the race, their bank statements are revealed: $20 million for Barak and an overdraft of NIS 20,000 for Shaffir. But her salary goes up when she wins the race.
Peace plan moves forward
US President Donald Trump announces his long-awaited “ultimate deal” peace plan shortly after Netanyahu forms his government. Netanyahu endorses the plan, despite opposition inside his party. The Palestinians reject the plan, despite firm pressure from Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is more beholden than ever to Trump, due to the Jamal Khashoggi murder. The plan does not advance, but no one can say anymore that “everyone knows where the final borders are going to be” or that the plan president Bill Clinton negotiated at Camp David in 2000 is the only plan on the table.
Haredim keep on fighting
The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties should go up in the Knesset, because their constituents’ high birthrates continuously increase their voters. But the next Knesset will have fewer haredim than the previous one, because their rabbis and party leaders do not get along. Neither Arye Deri’s Shas nor Eli Yishai’s Yahad crosses the threshold; and after winning only five seats, United Torah Judaism splits forever after the election.
Record number of women MKs
The Knesset reaches the plateau of 40 women out of 120 MKs. This achievement is celebrated and boasted around the world, continuing the trend of the municipal elections, when the number of female mayors rose from seven to 13. But there end up being only five women in the cabinet, which makes it harder to celebrate. One woman’s voice is heard especially loud and clear: that of Deputy Foreign Minister Caroline Glick.
Barkat beaten by his political adviser
While he was still Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat spent huge sums bringing groups of Likud central committee members on VIP visits to the capital. Current Knesset candidates are limited in their campaign spending, but Barkat took advantage of the loophole that he had not formally announced his candidacy. That should help Barkat earn a slot on the Likud’s Knesset list. But his veteran political adviser, Keti Shitrit, still knows the party better, and she will be higher on the list.
The year of the lesbian
Itzik Shmuli (Labor) and Amir Ohana (Likud) were the only two openly gay MKs in the outgoing Knesset. Expect that number to rise substantially in the next Knesset, which besides Shmuli and Ohana could include candidates Zehorit Sorek (Yesh Atid), Heidi Moses (Likud), Anat Nir (Meretz) and Avi Buskila (Meretz), plus another prominent member of the LGBT community who is openly gay but not so open yet about his negotiations with Gesher. Sorek, Moses or Nir could become the first openly lesbian MK, though Marcia Freedman came out of the closet after she left the Knesset. There are two LGBT US senators and eight in the US House of Representatives.
Feiglin turns a new leaf
It’s been a decade since then-Green Leaf Party head Gil Kopatch stunned Israelis by smoking a joint on David Ben-Gurion’s grave in a campaign commercial. The party put a comedian first on its list that year to attract attention.
This time, how about turning to former Likud MK and current Zehut Party leader Moshe Feiglin? His party is doing terrible in the polls, and he issued a policy paper this week demanding cannabis legalization. If the parties were to merge, Feiglin would head the joint list, but Green Leaf candidates would still be high.