After the upcoming Jewish holidays, Israelis will go to the polls on November 1. That means Israelis are in for a four-month-long election season instead of the usual three and thus face one of the longest campaign seasons in the country’s history.
Four months of spin, promises and manipulations are in store for Israelis as political parties work to try and conquer the hearts and minds of voters – voters who are already saturated by the unfulfilled promises of four elections in the past five years.
Instead of a prime minister leading a small six-member party, Israel now has a caretaker prime minister, which is just another way of saying a temporary prime minister in office for four months.
Lapid and Yesh Atid
Many things can be said about Yesh Atid, chairman and caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, but one thing cannot be taken away from him: He managed to realize his dream of becoming premier. That’s not something many in politics can say.
But that achievement is a mere step in Lapid’s grand strategy of being voted in as prime minister, which he is pursuing with a lot more planning and political calculation than meets the eye. For example, Lapid’s decision to let former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett be first in the rotation between the two was not, as is often presented, a gentleman-like act, but rather, the result of a consideration that whoever enters elections as serving prime minister has an advantage.
There’s an Israeli saying that says that nothing is more permanent than the temporary and Lapid understands the political aspects of this very well. His temporary step up is part of a bigger goal to lead a real government.
The catch is, however, that Lapid’s ability to assemble a government will depend not only on his maneuvers but also on those of his fellow members in the center-left bloc.
Gantz and Sa'ar
Unlike in the last, exhausting four rounds of elections, this time around, the Israeli political map appears to be changing somewhat. Recently, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Chairman of the Blue and White party, who was a political partner of Lapid, decided to challenge Lapid’s bid to become prime minister by forming a joint list together with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, head of the rightist New Hope Party.
This pushes Lapid more to the left of the political map. For Sa’ar the maneuver makes good political sense since polls show him barely scraping across the threshold in the next elections if he runs alone. Gantz, for his part, becomes a real candidate for prime minister in the face-off against the opposition led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz’s new joint list could lure some center-right voters who are fed up with the Netanyahu-led bloc.
These advantages, however, could all be undermined by the fact that Gantz’s messaging is too confused to clearly position himself politically.
Gantz attempts to satisfy everyone – the Left, the Right, the middle class, the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox. In both politics and life, one can’t satisfy everyone. At this time, it seems that it is Sa’ar who closed an excellent deal for himself and is riding on Gantz’s shoulders, saving himself from erasure from the political map.
MEANWHILE, WITHIN the rightist bloc the Likud party grows stronger, according to the polls, despite the multiple trials that Netanyahu is facing. His base of voters remains loyal and seems to be getting stronger. Still, Netanyahu’s bloc would have to reach 61 Knesset seats to gain power and it may turn out that the only way he could do this is with the help of Interior Minister and Yamina party chairwoman, Ayelet Shaked, known to some as the princess of the right.
Shaked is still recovering from finding out very late, while on a state visit to Morocco, that the government she was a part of had fallen apart. She was practically the last person to know about the fall of the government despite her full loyalty to Bennett, her former Yamina colleague.
The shock and sense of treachery she felt in the face of Bennett’s failure to update her was clearly visible. Shaked’s party has been deeply scarred by the departure of members from the party itself and from the previous government, and her situation in the polls isn’t great. But if she joins forces with Netanyahu, this could be the push that the bloc needs to get into government.
Shaked has four months to reinvent herself, and she has a big advantage going into the elections since she is able to market herself as a right-wing force operating for the benefit of all.
As a result, it is worth closely tracking Shaked’s progress over the next four months. She could well be the decisive factor regarding what kind of government Israel has after the elections.
Labor and Meretz
Meanwhile, on the Left, Labor and Meretz find themselves under Lapid’s leadership. Meretz has more than its fair share of trouble. Health Minister and Party Chairman Nitzan Horowitz announced that he will not compete in the upcoming primaries for the party leadership, and the party’s number two, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, announced that she is taking a pause from political life.
Both of them understand that the ship is sinking and that they must jump off it. Meretz is scratching the electoral threshold in polls, and its sister party, Labor, refuses to merge with it. This week, former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon declared that she will return to politics to run for the party leadership. This move is designed to revive the party and could certainly prove effective since Galon is considered a skilled and highly esteemed political operative.
United Arab List
The Arab sector, for its part, will soon answer an important question as well: How many votes will the United Arab List party of Mansour Abbas gain after making history and becoming the first Arab party to serve in the ruling coalition government?
Will the Arab Israeli population reward Abbas for his actions or will they erase him from the political map?
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who declared his intention to enter politics, is currently shopping for parties and could run with either Lapid or Gantz-Sa’ar. It’s important to remember, however, that the Israeli population is no longer automatically enthralled with generals and former chiefs of staff, and demands someone who puts their quality of life at the top of their list of priorities.
In Israel, every day is dramatic and this is true all the more so in politics. The situation is highly fluid and the political arena is filled with capricious actors pursuing their dreams and ambitions, alongside “mere ideology.”
What remains certain, however, is that this campaign will be primal and highly charged.
The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She is a political commentator & panelist on Morning World and various current affairs news programs on television.