Election blues: What is in store this time around?

Around half the electorate wants to see Benjamin Netanyahu replaced as prime minister.

IT IS currently very difficult to predict how this mishmash of parties will emerge from the elections on March 23, and what its chances of forming a government will be. (photo credit: FLASH90)
IT IS currently very difficult to predict how this mishmash of parties will emerge from the elections on March 23, and what its chances of forming a government will be.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Though many changes have taken place on the Israeli party map since the elections to the 21st Knesset in March 2019, there is very much a sense of déjà vu in so far as the expected results are concerned.
Around half the electorate wants to see Benjamin Netanyahu replaced as prime minister – either because it wishes to send the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox religious parties into opposition for a term or two, so that they may all recover from their cockiness and their behaving as though “God has chosen us to rule” (Ze’ev Jabotinsky), or because it believes that Netanyahu ought to leave the official residence on Balfour Street and attend to his trial, rather than continue to subordinate the needs of the state and its citizens to his efforts to delay or cancel the trial altogether.
The other half of the electorate either worships Netanyahu or believes that he is the only political leader in Israel at the moment with the experience and skills to lead it, though the destination to which he is leading it is controversial.
The two basic problems are that even though Netanyahu’s supporters keep arguing that Netanyahu enjoys a majority, his majority exists only within the Jewish population, so that he is unable to form a coalition with his “natural” partners (the ultra-Orthodox parties), while all the rest of the parties have not yet found the formula to select a candidate who can unite them all – at least temporarily – in a workable coalition.
I still believe, as I did before the elections to the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Knessets, that what Israel needs today is an authentic national-unity government – not the farce that has been in power since the middle of May 2020 – to start mending all the breakdowns and disunity that over 11 consecutive years of Netanyahu rule have left behind.
The problem is that as long as Netanyahu remains prime minister, this is not possible, because, as we have learned in the last nine months, for Netanyahu “unity” is a tool to attain his personal goals – not a tool that will help put things right again and bring back some sort of cohesion. So the goal must be to muster a majority that will put an end to Netanyahu’s excessively long tenure of office.
In the current, fourth round of elections in two years, the composition of the “Bibi go home” camp has somewhat changed.
First of all, it now consists of three right-wing parties: Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, compared to two in the previous elections.
Blue and White has broken up, and all that remains is Yesh Atid and a stump of Blue and White, which is on the verge of falling below the qualifying threshold.
The Labor Party has returned to life (though it is certainly not the Labor Party of yesteryear), and as a result its twin sister, Meretz, seems to be in danger of failing to pass the qualifying threshold.
The Joint List has lost one of its components – the United Arab List, which will be running separately, but appears to be below the qualifying threshold – and for various reasons has lost a third of its strength.
Of all the new parties that emerged like mushrooms after the rain as soon as elections were announced and actually registered to participate in the elections, only Yaron Zelekha’s Economic Party appears to be close to the qualifying threshold.
IT IS currently very difficult to predict how this mishmash of parties will emerge from the elections on March 23, and what its chances of forming a government will be.
First of all, all those who wish the “Bibi go home” camp well should pray that all the lists that are members of this camp and are in danger of failing to receive at least 3.25% of the vote will quit the race before March 23.
Besides the question mark around how many seats the bloc’s member parties will receive, there is the enigmatic Naftali Bennett, who on the one hand wants to see the Netanyahu era come to an end, and is highly critical of the policies of the current government, and on the other hand refuses to say whether, under certain circumstances, he might nevertheless join a Netanyahu-led government.
The circumstances in which this might happen are that his entry into such a government will be Netanyahu’s last chance of forming a right-wing-religious government, in which case Bennett will be in a position to ask for anything – including rotation in the premiership, the Defense Ministry, and the Justice Ministry for his partner Ayelet Shaked.
Since, according to the polls, of the three largest parties in the “Bibi go home” camp, Yamina comes third after Yesh Atid and New Home, Bennett’s decision will also depend on what either Sa’ar and/or Yair Lapid will be willing to offer him in return for his sticking with them.
Though Netanyahu had certainly hoped to be in a better situation than he is today, he has really done all that he could do, under the circumstances, to maximize the size of his natural coalition. Even though the ultra-Orthodox parties are not as cohesive as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, and before long Shas leader Arye Deri will apparently find himself again in court on criminal charges, Netanyahu has made sure that no votes will be lost in the elections on the right side of the political map.
He achieved this by repeating a trick he played, with greater or lesser success, in the past. After Bezalel Smotrich decided (with Netanyahu’s prodding?) not to run together with Bennett in a single list in the approaching elections, Netanyahu managed to get him to reluctantly agree to run together with the Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir (who himself had teamed up with the most extreme leader of a right-wing party – Avigdor Ma’oz).
How Netanyahu managed to do this is one of the most Machiavellian, manipulative and cynical moves any Israeli political leader has ever played. He promised Smotrich that if he would agree that his National Union Party would run together with Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit (+ Noam) in a technical bloc, he would place a candidate from National Union (MK Ofir Sofer) in the 28th slot on the Likud list – which he did. In addition, Netanyahu gave Smotrich various policy promises, in the event that he will form the next government.
What Netanyahu failed to achieve was to get Bayit Yehudi to also join the technical bloc. Bayit Yehudi, now led by the relatively anonymous Hagit Moshe, will not be running in the approaching elections, but reached an agreement with Bennett that should Bennett form or enter the next government – whatever government – he will appoint Moshe as a minister at Yamina’s expense.
In other words, Netanyahu’s hope of managing to get his 61-Knesset-seat majority depends on two events. The first is that the Religious Zionist Party (the name of the joint list of National Union and Otzma Yehudit) will pass the qualifying threshold, and the second is that Bennett will actually decide to go with him, should he receive enough Knesset seats to give Netanyahu the majority he covets.
The bottom line is that it will probably be Bennett who will determine who our next prime minister will be.