August 19, 2019

Israel’s Election Handbook: Netanyahu’s Leverage

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out a train window as he participates in a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

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
The Netanyahu coalition keeps gaining.

Main News
In a hotly debated move, the High Court bared a radical right-wing leader from running, and approved a radical left-wing candidate.

In the polls, the right-religious bloc gets a little stronger.

Benny Gantz’ phone was hacked by Iran. Details are sketchy, but rumors concerning the content that was stolen from the PM candidate are many.

Deadly attack in Ariel, violence in Gaza, put security, Palestinian issue, back on the agenda.

Most polls show that Moshe Feiglin’s libertarian Zehut gets into the next Knesset.

Developments to Watch

Material:  What happens in Gaza doesn’t always stay in Gaza. Demonstrations against Hamas, disquiet, protest, can lead to heightened tension near the border. Such tension is used by Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents to argue does he is not tough enough and does not provide the security Israelis expect.

Political: The weakening of Kahol Lavan leads to tension within the party. The party is an amalgamation of different sections, and as the party struggles, they begin blaming each other for their misfortune.

Personal: Israelis were convinced that Gantz’ phone included personal material that could prove embarrassing to the candidate. If there is such material, it is very likely to be revealed by someone between now and Election Day. Campaigns are not good for secrets.

Political: As Kahol Lavan weakens, the Labor party gains. It is still far from being seen as more than a satellite to the left of Kahol Lavan, but if some observers (myself included) estimated that this could be the Labor’s last hurrah – the polls seem to suggest that this party is not yet gone.

Personal: Note the relative calm within Likud. No one challenges Netanyahu. And even his bitterest critic, Gideon Saar, is playing with the team.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The trends seem troubling for those wanting Netanyahu gone. The Likud Party is not getting much stronger, but the gap between Likud and Kahol Lavan is closing. Without a significant gap – as Yair Lapid admitted a few days ago – it is hard to see President Reuven Rivlin denying Netanyahu a first shot at forming a coalition.

Moreover, the right-wing-religious bloc – Netanyahu’s natural turf – is getting slightly yet steadily stronger. The combined averages of right-wing and religious parties currently allows Netanyahu to form a coalition even if one of the smaller parties decides to stay out. This gives the PM an important leverage when he negotiates with his future partners. Look at the graph. If Kulanu, the more centrist of all other parties in the bloc, is unhappy with the outcome, Netanyahu could form a coalition without it. If Feiglin’s Zehut, the least predictable party, does not wish to join into a coalition that is surely not to follow its libertarian political script, Netanyahu could still go for a coalition.

Who is Netanyahu’s real enemy? The higher electoral threshold whose own coalition established. Too many parties in his bloc are dangerously close to the threshold. If one or two of them fail to get into the Knesset – for example, both Kulanu and Zehut – all bets are off.