September 18, 2019

Political bits and pieces: Bibi forever (for now)


Israeli polls indicate that the in the last few weeks Israel’s political landscape has changed a little in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud Party is getting stronger, centrist Yesh Atid is losing power. The coalition is maintaining its current strength. The opposition is not in a better position to take over than it was two years ago.

What’s the reason for this? Trump might have helped Netanyahu by having a good and friendly visit. The opposition is relatively silent, because there’s no election in sight. It is also fractured. The Labor Party will be having a primary election in a month, and eight candidates are challenging the leader of the party – a fact that does not instill much confidence in the ability of this party to seriously challenge the dominance of Netanyahu.


Elections? Netanyahu has no reason to push for another round of elections. Other parties in the coalition hardly have any incentive to initiate elections. The opposition does not have the power to force elections. This means no elections any time soon, unless Trump makes it impossible for the coalition to keep functioning by advancing a peace process of the kind that some parties can’t live with.

The chances of this happening? The visit makes it seem less likely. The polls makes the threshold of an intolerable peace process less clear. In other words: with a meager nine seats predicted by the polls, is it more appealing for the Jewish Home to quit the coalition (in the hope of having the opponents of a peace process coalesce around it) – or maybe the nine seats all but guarantee that the Jewish Home will not take the risk of leaving the coalition and becoming an almost marginal party?


Looking at the race in the Labor Party, one can subscribe to one of four schools of thought:

A. It does not matter, the Labor Party is no longer important (11-12 seats in recent polls).

B. With the right leader the party can bounce back – so it actually does matter.

C. The Labor primaries are a first step in a long journey of building a united anti-Bibi front (hence it needs a leader that is willing to take part in building such a coalition, disregarding his own personal role in the ultimate political arrangement).

D. The primaries are a first step in an even longer journey of rebuilding the party – a process that is not about the next election, but rather about the more distant future.


Another party is in trouble. The leader of the Haredi Shas party, Aryeh Deri, is under investigation. Deri is a convicted felon. In the past he was tried, convicted, served time in jail, and made a comeback. In fact, it was an impressive comeback of one of the most impressive natural leaders we have. Deri is not a small politician with a lowercase P. He is a leader of people, a symbol. He is the man preserving Shas following the death of its founder, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

Of course, it is much too early to speculate on the future of Shas if Deri’s legal problems become impossible to overcome. Shas in not like Avigdor Lieberman’s Israeli Beiteinu (no Lieberman, no party). It is also not like the Likud Party (without Netanyahu, the Likud would still have the best chance to come on top). Shas is a question mark. It might survive without Deri, but this is not a certainty.


Open questions:

Is Ehud Barak running for Prime Minister? (He is probably looking for an opening.)

Will anyone within the Likud Party challenge Netanyahu? (Doesn’t seem like it for now.)

Can Yair Lapid maintain his good ratings for another two years of relative silence? (Netanyahu wants him to dry for as long as possible, for now.)

Will we see a new left-of-center party? (Ego and chances for success will make or break such an option.)

Will there be a large anti-Bibi bloc? (Lapid could be the key, and currently he does not want to be a part of it.)