The balance of power between the two main leaders in today’s opposition in Israel – Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz – appears to be tilting increasingly in the direction of the latter.
Just over five months ago Lapid was clearly in the lead. In the last election, Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party received 24 Knesset seats, while Gantz’s National Unity Party (NUP) received only 12. The most recent poll (Maariv, April 7) shows Yesh Atid going down to 20 seats, and the NUP going up to 25.
In order to fully appreciate the significance of these figures, it should be remembered that while the Likud under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received 32 seats in the last election, in the above-mentioned poll it was down to 25 – on par with the NUP.
The most recent poll
Two days later, a poll published by TV Channel 13, showed the NUP up to 29 seats, Yesh Atid with 21, and the Likud down to 20.
Of course, one should not attach too much importance to opinion polls that reflect the public mood at a particular moment in time. On any view, they are simply a reaction to the most recent events, and it is unlikely that new elections will take place in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Gantz is the only one among the leaders of the three largest parties, who, in recent weeks, has been progressively gaining popularity.
Gantz’s rise undoubtedly results from the fact that since he entered politics completely unprepared in December 2018, he has learned a thing or two about how the political game is played, and has greatly improved his public appearances. He is also a man who does not engender strong public feelings either way, and he gives the impression of being cool-headed and unflappable.
Neither Gantz nor Lapid has any apparent influence over the leaders of the demonstrations against the government’s legal reform/revolution. Unlike Lapid, however, Gantz seems much more forthcoming regarding attempts to reach some sort of compromise with the government.
Incidentally, I also believe that Gantz has in his parliamentary group the only candidate, who is likely to manage to introduce the necessary legal reform, without raising the sort of explosive reactions as the current Justice Minister Yariv Levin has done.
I am referring to former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is an avid supporter of legal reform, but in a much milder and palatable form than that submitted by Levin. However, the chances of Sa’ar returning to the Justice Ministry in the near future seem infinitesimal, primarily because despite his more pragmatic approach to the current political crisis, Gantz is unlikely to join Netanyahu’s current “all-Right” Government. Further, there is no indication that Netanyahu would be willing even to consider enabling him to replace National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in an alternative government.
Where do Gantz's supporters come from?
Many of the new supporters Gantz has managed to attract in recent weeks originate from Yesh Atid and the Labor Party – his own “natural” political camp. One cannot ignore the fact, however, that another group originates from what remains of the more moderate, liberal sections of the Likud, which are getting fed up with what is going on in their party. Whether this movement will persist, very much depends on what will happen in the Likud in the coming months, and in the post-Netanyahu era.
THE INTERESTING question is why Yesh Atid supporters appear to be moving to the NUP. I do not think one can offer a definitive answer to this question, and the trend might change in future. However, the impression I get of Lapid these days is that he does not have a very clear idea of where he is heading, and how he plans to get there. For example, for the last month he has been harking on about the need to write a constitution for Israel in order to get Israel out of the current crisis.
That is all very well, but how on earth does he think that a complete constitution can be written these days, especially since the writing of a constitution requires close cooperation by all sections of society? It is no secret that cooperation is not exactly a commodity available in the current situation, in which we do not even seem able to work out a compromise regarding our legal system – let alone all the areas that must be dealt with in a constitution.
The history of our non-constitution, since the establishment of the state, is a fascinating one. According to our Declaration of Independence of May 14, 1948, we were supposed to complete Israel’s written constitution by October 1, 1948. How naive those who drafted the declaration were.
By mid-1950, it was clear that there was no chance that the job could be completed in the foreseeable future. Instead, it was decided on June 13, 1950, in the Harari Resolution, that rather than write the constitution all in one go, it should be written piecemeal, in the form of basic laws, each of which would deal with a particular issue or field, and that when the job had been completed, the basic laws would be combined into a complete constitution.
The first basic law – Basic Law: the Knesset – was enacted in 1958. Several basic laws have not yet been enacted, however, including Basic Law: Legislation, and a complete basic law dealing with human rights (even though two laws, in the latter category, were enacted in 1992, toward the end of the 12th Knesset).
The reason for this is that these two issues were met with fierce opposition from the religious parties, that view the Halacha (Jewish religious law) as the supreme law, rather than any of the Knesset’s enacted laws. They also view the Western concept of human rights as foreign to the Halacha.
At the same time, especially in recent years, some of the basic laws – including Basic Law: the Government and Basic Law: the Knesset – have undergone major changes, to suit the changing needs and whims of all sorts of divergent governments, including the current one. That is the exact opposite of what one expects of a constitution, which is to offer rigid governing principles, and stability.
In the course of the 16th Knesset (2003-2006) a valiant effort was made by the then-chairperson of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Michael Eitan (Likud), to complete the preparation of a “Constitution by Agreement.” Much progress was made in many spheres, and Eitan actually managed to get several ultra-Orthodox, and Arab MKs (including the maverick Azmi Bishara) to play a role in the project. The project was cut short by the elections to the 17th Knesset, which brought Kadima to power, and the project was more or less buried.
However, all the materials and drafts prepared by the Committee, all the debates held in it, and numerous previous draft constitutions prepared by various factors, may still be found on the Knesset website. If Lapid were really serious in his proposal for a constitution, he could easily have dug up all this invaluable material. However, I doubt whether he even knows that it exists.
Now we must wait and see whether the existing trends will continue, or whether – as frequently happens – the pieces of the puzzle will once again be shuffled.
The writer, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.