February 21, 2020

Is Liberman Israel's New King-Maker?

“If results of the upcoming Sept. 17 elections indeed resemble current public opinion polls, then Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Liberman will be the kingmaker who determines the identity of Israel’s next prime minister and is able to tip the balance in one direction or the other.

In the April elections to the 21st Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, along with the ultra-Orthodox and religious right-wing parties, won 60 Knesset seats — one less than the majority required to form a governing coalition. When Liberman refused to support him with his five Knesset seats, Netanyahu made last-ditch efforts to mobilize renegades from the political center-left. These included Gadi Yevarkan from Blue and White (originally from the Likud) and Omer Yankelevich, an ultra-Orthodox woman also representing Blue and White. When that failed, Netanyahu was so desperate that he turned to then-Labor Chair Avi Gabbay on the left side of the political map (Labor refused to join him).

As we know, Netanyahu failed in his efforts, leading to the disbanding of the newly elected Knesset on May 29 and the scheduling of new elections for Sept. 17. However, polls conducted last week indicate that voters will not give Netanyahu sufficient backing to form a government without Liberman this time around either. The average of the latest polls, as calculated by the financial daily Globes, gives the Likud, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc (the same makeup as the outgoing government) only 56 seats compared with 47 for the center-left and 11 for the Joint Arab List. Prospects of Arab lawmakers joining any government are slim to none, but even if they support a center-left government in the Knesset without actually joining it, this bloc will not have sufficient backing to form a coalition government either. The various moves under discussion to unite parties on the right and the left to strengthen their appeal do not change this projection in any substantive way.”

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