February 22, 2019

Israel’s Election Handbook: Merge or Perish

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the Jewish Home party, enter the room before delivering their statements in Tel Aviv, Israel December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Right parties under growing pressure to merge.

Main News

Labor, Meretz to hold primary election in the coming days.

No significant change in the polls.

Many parties still very close to electoral threshold and could disappear.

Ahmad Tibi, leader of Taal, vows no to rejoin United Arab Party.

Difficulties in talks to merge right-religious Jewish Home and Tkumah.

Developments to Watch

Political: Pressure on Yair Lapid to merge with Benny Gantz still significant but could subside as polls show that such merge fails to achieve its goal: attracting right-wing voters.

Political: The real pressure to merge parties moves to the right as polls show that as many as 6 rightist parties could end up under the electoral threshold. In such case, Benjamin Netanyahu does not have a large enough bloc for a coalition.

Political: The main problem on the right is the split among right-religious parties – mainly the two former partners The Jewish Home and Tkuma. These two parties run together in the last election to win 8 seats. They were both thrown off course when ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked quit The Jewish Home to form The New Right.

Political: Tibi’s Taal announces that it is ready to join a political bloc with the center and left, to prevent the right from forming a coalition. The last time such thing happened was the Rabin government in the early Nineties.

Personal: More than a few politicians are likely to end their career later this week, when a much weaker Labor holds primary election. Note that Labor had 18 seats in the outgoing Knesset, and is currently projected to win five to eight seats.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

There are three things to know about the blocs:

No combination of parties changes the projected outcome: a right-religious bloc that’s larger than all other blocs.

Scenario polls (when voters are asked what they will do in certain cases) show that a Gantz-Lapid merge could become the largest party – and hence give Gantz the option to argue that he should get a first shot at trying to form a coalition.

Currently, the electoral threshold is the most difficult to project wild card in this election. Parties such as the Jewish Home, Kulanu, Labor and many others could become extinct because of it – and completely change the outcome of this election.

The first graph presented here shows that the 67 Netanyahu coalition still has a majority, but a fragile one. The second graph looks at the blocs. The difference between the two – the reason for which the right bloc does not reach the 60 seat threshold in the second graph – has one reason: our decision to place Kulanu in the center bloc. Kulanu was part of the 67 coalition, but we assume that it could end up joining a centrist coalition. Of course, other rightist-religious parties could also do such thing, but we assume that for Kulanu it will be easier than for other members of the outgoing coalition. Note that a recent Haaretz poll showed that 59% of Kulanu voters do not want Netanyahu to serve another term as Prime Minister (the same is true for 53% of Israel Beiteinu voters).

Focus on One Party

As the Labor Party holds its primary election, note the decline since its leader, Avi Gabbai, decided to end the partnership that was formed by his predecessor with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah Party. Labor was in trouble even before this separation, but is not, in many polls, dangerously close to extinction (bellow four  seats). The leaders of the party hope that an attractive list of young and popular activists will give it a necessary boost in the polls. But the truth is that what Labor voters do depends more on other developments – whether Gantz has a real chance of beating Netanyahu – than on the exact composition of the Labor list.