May 19, 2019

Israel’s Election Handbook: The Big Gantz-Lapid Bang (and What It Means)

Benny Gantz Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

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

Updated 2pm Israel Time: A big bang. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid agreed to merge. Everything is up in the air.

Main News

Gantz and Lapid agreed to merge. Gantz will be PM for two and a half years, Lapid will succeed him. That is, if the party wins. The list will run under the title Blue and White.

Another former chief of staff joined the merged party: Gabi Ashkenazi.

The religious right merged: The Jewish Home, Tkumah and Otzma Yehudit will run together.

Gesher did not join Gantz, and in most recent polls does not cross the electoral threshold.

Last minute drops and recruits: Tzipi Livni and the Hatnuah Party dropped, General Tal Rousso joined Labor.

Talks about mergers of Arab parties, and of Labor with Meretz continue. The dead line is Thursday night, Israel time.

Developments to Watch

Political: Fresh polls – starting today – are necessary, to understand the implications of the merger. Likely outcomes: Likud grows (because of voters wanting to ensure its victory); Labor loses the gains of recent days (because of voters who see opportunity for change); other small parties pay a price (Kulanu, Gesher, Israel Beiteinu, Meretz). Some of them will not cross the electoral threshold.

Legal: Next stop, indictment. Everybody is waiting for the Attorney General to publicize his decision on the Netanyahu case.

Social: The barrier between right-religious parties and radical Kahanist activists was removed. This reflects important changes and splits in the Zionist-religious camp. Netanyahu played the role of matchmaker, as not to lose rightist voters who could elect parties that do not cross the electoral threshold.

Social: Lapid downgraded most representatives who emphasized state-religion issues in his party. This is not an important issue for the voters in this election.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The old polls mean little when realities change. Still, some media outlets conducted “scenario polls” that tested what happens in case of significant mergers. Clearly, what the voters say they might do in a theoretical setting is not what they will do in a real situation, and yet, for now this is the only tool we have by which to examine possible implications of the merger. So here is a graph based on the last 4 scenario polls. What you see in the graph are three things: How Likud fairs, how the new party fairs, and how Netanyahu’s coalition of 67 (the one that was the basis for his government for most of the last four years) fairs. The last column, in a different color, is one of averages. Look at the graph, followed by a few comments:

 

 

  • Likud and the new party compete for two things. The first of which is to be the larger party – as to force the president to consider it worthy of forming a coalition (the larger party does not always get the job, but it is unlikely to see a distant second party getting a shot at forming a coalition). The new party seems to achieve this goal.
  • The second competition is for the bloc, and the post-election coalition. For now, Netanyahu has the advantage when we look at the blocs if – and this is not a certainty – all the parties in his 67 coalition agree to return to the same coalition.
  • Netanyahu’s advantage is small and fragile. Some of the parties might be tempted to go with other coalitions (Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu). Some might not cross the threshold.
  • Still, it will not be easy for Gantz and Lapid to form a coalition. Arab parties are out of the question. Meretz is unlikely to join in what’s going to be a centrist coalition. So the new party will have to find a way to tempt the ultra-Orthodox parties to consider a coalition.
  • Last but not least: If Netanyahu is forced to stay with the base for a new coalition, the Trump plan is in even more trouble than we think. Or maybe it’s Netanyahu in trouble.