March 20, 2019

Israel’s Election Handbook: Kahol-Lavan Leads Comfortably

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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

After the big bang, the new Kahol-Lavan list (Gantz and Lapid) presents a serious challenge to Likud.


Main News

Reports: Attorney General is set to publicize his decision in the Netanyahu cases towards the end of the week.

Post-merger polls give Gantz-Lapid an average 5 seat advantage over Likud.

Netanyahu’s main effort is to paint Kahol-Lavan as “left”.

AIPAC’s denouncement of the deal that is likely to bring Kahanist activists back into the Knesset is used as political ammunition by Netanyahu’s opponents.

Several parties, including Kulanu and Meretz, are still very close to the electoral threshold and could be in danger.


Developments to Watch

Legal: Reports currently suggest that the Attorney General will announce a decision to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing. Two cases (4000, 1000) seem finalized, a third (2000) is still under considerations. One indictment will be for bribery.

Diplomatic: Netanyahu will travel to Russia later this week for a meeting with Putin. He will travel to Washington next month for AIPAC. Gantz was also invited to AIPAC. The reception of both will be interesting to follow.

Political: right-wing infighting: Bennet tries to appeal to Likud voters; the right-wing union (The Jewish Home, Tkuma, Otzma) goes after Bennet voters.


The Blocs and Their Meaning

The Likud might not be the largest party on Election Day. This makes its claim on forming the next coalition trickier. It will have to assemble a majority of MK’s supportive of Netanyahu as PM and show that no other party can form a coalition. Will it be able to do such thing? Let’s look at two graphs and then explain what they mean.

The first graph shows the numbers of Likud vs. Kahol Lavan since last Thursday (8 polls) and the average for each of these two parties. The second graph looks at the performance of the right-religious bloc of parties taken together (the 67 coalition).




  • The right-wing religious coalition of 67 (in the current Knesset) maintains a thin lead over the other camp – that is, the camp that wishes to unseat Netanyahu and form a different coalition. This lead is stable from the time new election were announced in late December, but since this is a small lead (61 is the minimum required), even slight erosion puts the bloc in danger.
  • That the right-wing-religious coalition has only small advantage, does not mean that the other bloc can form a stable coalition. Arab parties do not join coalitions, and hence Kahol-Lavan would not be able to gather an above-sixty coalition. That is, unless some of the parties that we currently count as part of the Likud bloc decide to switch their loyalties after Election Day.
  • The likely candidates to do such thing are Kulanu and Israel Beiteinu. Then again, having Lieberman and Meretz in the same coalition – that is supported from the outside by Arab parties – is not easy to imagine.
  • What right-wing parties are afraid of is a unity government of Likud and Kahol Lavan. To have such coalition, Gantz and Lapid will need to accept a coalition headed by an indicted PM (they currently say they will not accept it). Another distant possibility: Netanyahu quits, and the Likud Party enters a unity coalition with someone else at the helm.





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.












Israel’s Election Handbook: The New Face of Likud

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. 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

The Likud Party has a decent list of candidates.

Main News

Likud Primaries: a solid outcome, with experienced and respectable candidates at the front row.

Netanyahu failed to block the rise of former minister Gideom Saar within Likud.

Benny Gantz is still doing well in the polls. But his rise came to a halt.

Talk about possible last-minute merge of centrists (Gantz and Yair Lapid) intensify.

Five to six parties are close to the electoral threshold and might not get any Knesset seats.

The Jewish Home chose its new leader: Rabbi Rafi Peretz, from the conservative wing of the Zionist-religious sector.

Developments to Watch

Political: Will the new Likud party list give Likud a boost in the polls?

Personal: Gideon Saar just bit Netanyahu in his own home court and earned a Likud front seat against the PM’s will. Netanyahu must decide if wants this internal Likud fight to continue or declare a cease fire.

Personal: Are there any signs that Lapid is getting used to the idea of being Gantz’ No. 2.

Political: The Jewish Home must decide if it is ready to become a party of an even more conservative rightwing religionists and take under its wing the Kahanist wing of the ultra-right.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

Simply put, Likud still has best chance of both winning and forming the next coalition. The Netanyahu 67 coalition is now at average of 63. A slight decline, but still a majority. The right-religious bloc is very close to 60 seats, and with a small addition from the center can form the next coalition.


Focus on One Party

Not long ago, Orly Levy Abekasis was getting ready to becoming Israel’s political rising star. She was to be the newcomer who made it against all odds, all on her own, by forming a party focused on social justice. Today, above Levy’s party there’s a huge question mark. She can still run and get a seat at the table. She can merge with one of the other parties (it’s a little complicated for her, because of legal issues involving her decision to quit her previous party and stay in the Knesset). Or she can see more decline and end up bellow the electoral threshold. He average of seats for the year is 4.7. Her average in the last five polls is 3.2. That is – not enough.













Israel’s Election Handbook: Is the Rise of Gantz for Real?

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

For now, Benny Gantz is the alternative.

Main News

Gantz had a successful first appearance, and he is rising in polls.

His numbers improve mostly by taking from other parties in the center and left blocs.

Moshe Ya’alon is Gantz’ No. 2.

Many parties, including The Jewish Home, Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Gesher, Meretz, barely meet the electoral threshold.

Developments to Watch

Political: Gantz’ had a solid performance in his first speech. The boost in the polls was to be expected. The question is: Will it last. Another question is: how strong will he become. With nine  seats less than Likud, Gantz will not get a chance to form a coalition.

Political: Gantz’ list is “white” – namely, too Ashkenazi. It is also manly – or, as some critics argued, chauvinistic. These two issues must be corrected, and soon.

Political: Leaders in all blocs, but especially on the right must pay attention to the electoral threshold. The Jewish Home, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, are all in danger (according to the polls). The right can end up throwing away more than 10 seats on parties that will not make it into the Knesset.

Personal: Yair Lapid is likely to be under pressure to team up with Gantz and thus give the centrist bloc a shot as winning the election. For now, he stands firm against such pressure. He wants to be Prime Minister, not Gantz’ second in command.

Personal: Livni is still under water. Ehud Barak not likely to make a comeback. Ashkenazi, another former General, is still undecided.

What’s the Race About

Is Gantz for real, or just having his moment in the sun.

Possible Wild Cards:

More parties sinking under water.

Gantz’-Lapid merger (could end up having as many as 35 seats according to some polls).

Security crisis.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The rise of Gantz can be meaningful in three ways.

  • If it convinces other centrist parties and their voters that he is the real player that ought to be supported.
  • If it gets him close enough to the numbers of Likud, and make the possibility of him getting a first chance at forming a coalition realistic.
  • If the bloc of right-religious parties loses ground (and seats).

For now, none of this happened. Gantz is not dominant enough to make Lapid join him (he might succeed with Gesher). He is still far from Likud (average 8 seats less). The right-religious bloc still has an edge. Take a look at the graph. It shows the average of how the blocs did before and after the rise of Gantz. As you can see, most of what Gantz gained comes from his own bloc (center) or from the left.

Still, we do not want to underestimate Gantz’ achievement. In close election, and when many parties barely scratch the electoral threshold, every seat counts, and Netanyahu’s coalition of 67 (before Lieberman’s departure) is loosing seats. The parties that made this coalition currently get around 63 seats. As you can see, most of this change happened before Gantz’ rise.

Focus on One Party

Gantz, in the 4 polls before and the 4 polls after vs. Lapid before and after. Gantz, in the 4 polls before and the 4 polls after vs. Likud before and after. As you can see: Gantz must worry Likud, but to Lapid he is a more immediate threat.

Israel’s Election Handbook: Right Getting Closer to 60

Israeli lawmakers attend a preliminary vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

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

A relatively quiet election week. No splits, no mergers.

Main News

Northern front in the news: Israel bombing Iranian installations in Syria.

Netanyahu’s lawyers tried to convince the Attorney General not to publicize a decision on indictment before Election Day.

More details about the PM’s involvement in media manipulation was revealed.

Developments to Watch

Political: Benny Gantz launched a campaign that’s very much focused on him as a brave and combative soldier. Polls do not yet tell us if this campaign makes him more appealing to Israelis (see “focus on one party” at the bottom of this post).

Political: The Jewish Home is slated to decide on Thursday how to compose its next leader – by a committee of by party operatives.

Personal: Four MK’s (out of current 10) already left Kulanu. More to come.

Material: Security issues and the Syrian front creep into political campaigns. Netanyahu’s decision to take responsibility for Israeli attacks is criticized by opposition parties (the attacks themselves are supported by almost all parties).

What’s the Race About

Netanyahu’s legal troubles.

Possible Wild Cards:


Dramatic damning information against Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz-Yair Lapid last-minute merger.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We want to save you time. So here is all you need: the political blocs’ averages of the last year, and of the last week (last five polls). As usual, there are two options for counting the blocs, but the overall picture is clear. 1. There are few changes. 2. The left (Labor, Meretz, Arab parties) is slightly smaller. Right and center slightly gained. In fact, in the latest polls the right-religious bloc is getting close to a desired 61 bloc – a bloc that could give it the option of leaving all centrists outside the next government.

The blocs are:

Option 1:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher

Option 2:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher, Israel Beiteinu

Focus on One Party

How is General Gantz doing? Here is the graph of all polls in which he appeared as running with a separate party (that is to say: we did not include scenario polls of him running with Labor or Lapid). As you can see, his numbers slightly declined. His average of polls since new election were called on December 25 is more than 13 seats (13.2), but his average of the last five polls is almost a seat less (12.4). Does this mean he is losing steam? Not necessarily. Gantz just started his campaign, did not yet speak, did not yet reveal his list of candidates, did not yet merge with anyone.

Israel’s Election Handbook: Stability of the Right

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9th. 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

Likud gaining in recent polls.

Main News

Minister Shaked under attack, following a scandal involving an ally.

Labor MK’s leaving the party (3 thus far).

Lapid also promises to change Nationality Law.

Developments to Watch

Political: The Jewish Home party named a list of activists, rabbis and leaders. These people will name the new leader of the party. In recent polls, the party doesn’t always get enough votes to get into the Knesset.

Political: According to the first poll to test the split in the United Arab List, MK Ahmad Tibi made the right choice when he decided to run alone (the Taal Party). He is projected to get 6 seats, instead of the 2 he currently has. The UAL declines to 6 seats (from its current 13).

Personal: Labor MK’s Nahmias-Verbin, Bar, Broshi, will not run again. They say it is an ideological decision, but it is worth noting that the prospect of them getting into the next Knesset were dim.

Material: Possible merger of all Haredi parties is under serious discussion. This can save Shas whose current situation is fragile. It is also interesting as Ashkenazi and Sephardic haredis do not usually mix.

Material: Gantz’ slogan revealed: “Israel comes first”.

What’s the Race About

When will Gantz finally say something? Will his numbers hold when he does?

The Blocs and Their Meaning

Here is one of the two options of political blocs we track (in the other one, Israel Beiteinu is in the center). Note that we added the new Arab Party, Taal, to the left bloc. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 25, the day new elections were announced.



What you can see here (for the two options) is how little changed on average since the beginning of 2018. We compare the average of polls since January 2018, to the average of the last 5 polls. The result: 2-3 more seats for the center, 2-3 less for the left. Over all, the political situation remains the same. A coalition can be formed by the right plus some of the center, or by the center plus a lot more of the right. Since the Likud Party is head and shoulders above all other parties for now, the likelihood is for a right plus some center coalition.



Focus on One Party

Since Tzipi Livni was forced to separate herself from Labor (and the Zionist Camp), her party, Hatnua, is included in polls. But the party does not do very well. In fact, in most polls it gets less than the minimum required to get to the next Knesset (4 seats is the minimum – in rare cases 3). Here you can these polls. When Livni does not cross the threshold, we apply 0 (seats) to her party even though she does get some votes. 1.89 is her average seat number (that’s equals 0). 6 is the number of MK’s she won with the Zionist Camp. It should be noted that if Livni gets closer to election day in such fragile situation, many of her voters could end up deciding to cast their vote for a party with better chances to have representation in the Knesset (likely choices, Lapid and Gantz).


Israel’s Election Handbook: No Mergers, No Doubts

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. 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

Splits continue – mergers await.

Main News

The Arab Party is also on its way to a split.

Netanyahu made his case against pre-election decision on hearing.

Internal security warns from outside interfering in election, Russia rebuffs allegations.


Feb. 11 is the day of Labor Primaries.

Developments to Watch

Political: Arab split could mean two Arab parties in the Knesset, or one party that does not cross the finish line (leading to a reduction of the record number of Arab MK’s in the current Knesset).

Personal: According to polls taken since she split with the Labor Party, Tzipi Livni does not make it into the next Knesset. She must find a new political home, or she might disappear.

Material: It’s not clear if and how Russian intervention can impact Israeli voters. This is not America: Voters are generally speaking more informed, engaged and involved.

What’s the Race About

Still nothing. But to get some more input listen to the Rosner’s Domain podcast with veteran political commentator Yaron Deckel.

Possible Wild Cards:

A decision to indict/not indict Netanyahu.

Resignation of Labor’s Avi Gabbay.

Violence in Gaza.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 25, the day new elections were announced. Since then, parties fractured, but blocs remain relatively stable.

What you can see next (again, for the two options) is how little changed on average since the beginning of 2018. We compare the average of polls since January 2018, to the average of the last 5 polls. The result: two to three more seats to the center, one to two less seats to the right and the left. Over all, the political situation remains the same. A coalition can be formed by the right plus some of the center, or by the center plus some of the right.


Focus on One Party

While other parties go up and down, the Likud Party is relatively stable. It also has a projected number of seats that’s more than double than the next party in line. If there are no mergers that can push other parties above the 25-seat line, there is little doubt that the Likud will form the next coalition. The President cannot let a party with 13 or 17 seats to form a government, when Likud has 28 or 30 seats.








Israel’s Election Handbook: Silent Treatment

Ehud Barak.

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

Netanyahu utilizes his legal troubles to rally the base.

Main News

Netanyahu released a video demanding that any decision by the Attorney General concerning his indictment will be postponed until after Election Day.

The AG will reportedly announce his decision a few weeks before Election Day.


First public appearance of General Benny Gantz – the head of the most fashionable party to the left of Netanyahu – is expected sometime. For now, Gantz’ silence draws ridicule but does not hurt him, politically speaking.

Developments to Watch

Political: There are too many parties. Talks about possible mergers will continue until the last minute. Can the center unify? Can the religious-right? Can Haredis?

Personal: A few players did not yet throw their hats into the ring. The two most important: Former PM Ehud Barak. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. It is not clear if any of them can tip the scale in a certain direction.

Legal: Netanyahu intensifies his attacks on the legal system. This strategy has two reasons. 1. His base is highly suspicious of the system. 2. His attacks are likely to draw angry responses, and some of them, by people much less experienced than him in public speaking, could help his campaign.

What’s the Race About

Is the legal system trying to topple an elected PM?

Possible Wild Cards:

A last-minute merger of all centrist parties (Gantz, Lapid, Livni, and maybe more).
A highly convincing indictment that leaves Netanyahu little choice but to seek a deal.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 30. Parties fractured, but blocs remain pretty much the same. The averages of polls since January 2018 (column 11) and of the last 10 polls (column 12) show relative stability. If things do not change, the right will win the election, but the Likud Party is going to need to convince at least one centrist party to join the coalition. This could become complicated for an indicted PM.

Focus on One Party

When Israel decided to go to election, The Jewish Home seemed like a midsize party. Then its two leaders, Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, suddenly left it. Not it is a party whose future is unclear. It can be small – or disappear. That is, if the party does not meet the electoral threshold (four seats). In such case, the right-wing bloc could lose the equivalent of two to three seats.

The average number of seats currently projected by polls is 3.2. Namely – no seats.





Israel’s Election Handbook: Split on the Right

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain from now until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip. See an Update with the newer polls from Sunday here

Bottom Line

Israel’s political system fragments on both right and center.

Main News

Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left The Jewish Home to form the New Right party. Generals Benny Gantz and Moshe Yaalon to join forces.


February 21: Last date to present the lists of candidates for all parties.

Developments to Watch

Political: How many voters leave The Jewish Home for the New Right. How many voters the New Right is able to get from other parties (Likud, Yesh Atid, Gantz, Shas).

Personal: Will MK Bezalel Smotrich become the new face of The Jewish Home? Who will he recruit to attract more voters? Will Tzipi Livni find a new political home (she does not seem to want to stay in the Zionist Camp – nor does Gabbai seem to want her to stay)?

Material: The growing tension around Gaza can put Bibi Netanyahu is an awkward position, and is likely to strengthen Lieberman (who left the coalition arguing that Israel’s deterrence no longer work in Gaza).

What’s the Race About

Who better represents the ideologies and interests of the center-right and right?

Possible Wild Cards:

Eruption of violence in Gaza.

A decision to indict Netanyahu.

The Polls and Their Meaning

Below are the parties gaining and losing seats according to the polls since December 25, compared to the number of seats they won in 2015 (The New Right is not yet here). Note that Likud seems very stable and that the two parties who gain most seats are new parties – the old parties either lose (Zionist Camp) or stay about the same.


The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. As you can see, in both cases, the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. Columns 13 and 14 are averages – 13 of all polls since January 2018, and 14 of all polls since December 25, when new election were announced. For now, what we see is stability. Parties fluctuate, but blocs remain the same. With such outcome, it is clear that Likud will form the new coalition.

See an Update with the newer polls from Sunday here


Focus on One Party

This is what the Yesh Atid Party looks like in polls since the beginning of the year. It looked in a much better position when Gantz was not yet a part of the picture. It currently looks as just one of many second tier parties. The average for Yesh Atid in polls since December 25 is 13 seats, two more than it currently has in the Knesset.

Israel’s Election Handbook: A Day After Update

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.


This is a short update of Israel’s Election Handbook from yesterday. We recommend that you read both to get the fuller picture.

Many media outlets conducted polls the day after new elections were announced. So, we use the opportunity to show how these polls change the picture of Israel’s political blocs’ map.

The bottom line is still similar to what we said yesterday: “the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. The center and the left can theoretically form a majority – but only if they can agree to rely on the United Arab Party, an unlikely scenario. If things stay the way they are, the likely coalition will be one similar to the current coalition. The right, plus a party or two from the center – Netanyahu will have room for negotiations”.

We offer two options for potential political blocs. You can see the list of parties in each bloc for each option on the right.



If you are interested in averages, here is how the polls of the last 48 hours split the three blocs (the numbers refer to average number of projected seats in the Knesset):


Israel’s Election Handbook: A Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections

A general view shows the plenum as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

This format of reporting on Israel’s elections will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain from now until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip. Click here for updates.

Bottom Line

It is going to be short and fierce. Three months plus small change. Netanyahu has the edge, but legal troubles can complicate his situation.


Election Day is April 9.


The votes necessary to call new elections are expected this week.

Four parties must hold primaries within a few weeks: Likud, Labor, Jewish Home, Meretz.

Several candidates who are still sitting of the fence must decide if and how they intend to enter the fray. The most notable of these candidates is former IDF chief of staff, Benni Gantz.

Developments to Watch

Political: The attempts of Israel’s center-left to form a new bloc of parties that can effectively challenge Netanyahu. Without such a bloc, it’s not clear if there’s a viable path for anyone to compete with the Likud Party.

Personal: Where is Gantz is going? He is the wild card for now, according to the polls.

Legal: Attorney General schedule. In short, will he or will he not make a decision to indict Netanyahu as the police and the State Attorney recommend.

Material: The crash of markets. This can lead to economic anxiety, even though Israel’s economy seems to be in a solid position.

What’s the Race About?

For now, one issue: should Netanyahu get a fifth term?

Possible Wild Cards:

A decision by President Trump to put his peace plan on the table.


The Polls and Their Meaning

These are the averages for each party both since January and in the last 3 polls. Expect many changes as new parties form and old parties split or collapse. This will be a rapid process.

(for even newer numbers see our Day After Update)


The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options for potential political blocs. As you can see, in both cases the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. The center and the left can theoretically form a majority – but only if they can agree to rely on the United Arab Party, an unlikely scenario. If things stay the way they are, the likely coalition will be one similar to the current coalition. The right, plus a party or two from the center – Netanyahu will have room for negotiations.


Focus on One Party

This is what the Zionist camp looks like in polls since the beginning of the year. The two orange dots are scenario polls in which Benni Gantz joins the Zionist Camp. Clearly, the party can benefit from a leadership shakeup.


Counting to Election Day: The Cruelest Battle

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett attending the annual Bible Quiz in Jerusalem, on May 12, 2016. Photo by Shlomi Cohen/Flash90

Is Israel going to New Elections?

Yesterday two events made early elections – possibly in May – much more likely. Event one: the police recommended to indict PM Netanyahu on bribery charges. Event two: The Supreme Court gave the government until mid-January to pass a military draft law (for which there is not majority support among current coalition members).

To make this possibility easier to asses we’re republishing the table of recent polls –with the most recent updates – and explaining the chances for success and failure of the parties. Follow the comments, look at the table.




It’s early. We don’t yet know who is running and how. The most important decision will be made by former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz. This table shows that he can get from 15 to 20 seats as a head of a standalone party, or close to 25 as the head of the Zionist Camp. With more seats he can dream about becoming the PM – with an independent party he can join all coalitions and get a significant portfolio (most likely, Defense). Looking at the current table, going alone makes more sense, as Netanyahu seems likely to have a majority for a coalition similar to the one he had until a few weeks ago.


If Gantz runs alone, the Zionist Camp is in huge trouble. It will become insignificant even as an opposition party.


Netanyahu can have a small yet coherent coalition without Gantz or Lapid. Or he can take one of them and have a very large coalition. Or he can take both and have a gigantic coalition (our table’s “centrist coalition” option includes Lapid but not Gantz). Such a coalition could get more than 80 seats in the Knesset. The question of course is whether it can also be functional.

Remember that Netanyahu did well this term with a small and coherent coalition.


It’s important to remember that parties with 4-5 projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold. If, for example, Shas fails to get 4 seats (as some polls might predict, despite their average being close to 6 seats), coalition calculations become more complicated.


Note that about 20 seats are going to new, unknown, barely established, never tried before parties (Levy Abekasis and Gantz). Clearly, Israelis are looking for something that doesn’t currently exist in their political universe (maybe: a way to beat Netanyahu).


These polls were all taken before the police recommendation. Don’t be so sure that the recommendation will hurt Netanyahu. In fact, it could strengthen him. Especially so if rightwing voters feel that he needs their votes to win.


Going to new elections over the draft bill can also be tricky. All in all, Haredis are not well liked by most Israelis, nor is IDF draft deferment. If the opposition gets a chance to convince the public that this is the most important issue on the agenda, the public might give it more votes. Surely, Netanyahu is going to argue that security is the important item, and that no one else has the needed experience to keep Israel safe.


This isn’t necessarily a race for PM. Unless something dramatic changes, Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister. I’d think about it as the race to be Defense Minister. Lieberman wants the position back – and will get it back only if he has enough seats. Bennet wants it badly, and with enough seats for the Jewish Home he can make it a condition. But there is also Gantz. If he gets many votes, Netanyahu can use him either to tame Lieberman’s/Bennet’s ambitions – or as Defense Minister in a coalition that begins with 45-50 seats (Likud + Gantz).

In other words: there is good chance that the race for Defense Minister will be much fiercer, crueler, bloodier and more interesting than the race for PM.

Israel: The State of the Political Race

A general view shows the plenum as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

The numbers below are taken from polls conducted in Israel after the abrupt resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this week. Only one of these polls tested the option of a new party headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz. In all but one of the polls, the current coalition has a majority without a need to add more parties to the mix (ironically, the one newspaper whose poll does not predict such majority was done by Makor Rishon, an ideologically right-tilting newspaper). Netanyahu lost popularity this week – as many polls show – but when it comes to forming the next government he is still on solid ground.


A Few notes:


  1. This is early, and we ought to expect many changes until election day (time unknown).
  2. Still, presuming a repeat of the current coalition would be reasonable, and viable (as you can see in the table below).
  3. Gantz can run alone, or join a party, or a conglomerate of center-left parties, in an attempt to reshuffle the political cards.
  4. The two Ashkenazi Haredi factions that compose United Torah Judaism are, well, not as united as they used to be. A split is possible (meaning, one Hasidic and one Yeshivish party).
  5. Our “centrist coalition” option is based on the contours of Netanyahu’s third government: a coalition without the Haredi parties. Since parties disappeared (Hatnuah) or were established (Kulanu) since that time, we tried to assess how such coalition is likely to look like. Likud + Yesh Atid + Jewish Home + Kulanu + Israel Beiteinu + Abekasis.



News Notes: West Bank Annexation, BDS battle, asylum seekers


In the news: Likud party calls for de-facto annexation of Israeli settlements.

More than three years ago I made the following argument: “It’s not easy to mark the exact moment when a peripheral idea suddenly becomes mainstream. But it’s safe to say that in today’s Israel the worrisome idea of annexing land in the West Bank is no longer marginal or considered as extreme as it once was”. Still, the recent Likud vote in support of annexation does not worry me – at least no more than I was worried three years ago.


  1. Because it was a political move with no actual consequences.
  2. Because it does not have the support of the more serious leaders of Israel.
  3. Because the word “annexation” means nothing until all other aspects of annexation are clarified.

In other words: saying “annexation” is no more than a simple statement: Israel ought not leave Judea and Samaria. As a statement, it does not startle me. As a plan – it is no plan. Can Israel stay? What will be the price of it? What happens with the Palestinians who live there? Until these question have a clear and reasonable answer, annexation is a childish provocation, not a real threat.


In the news: Organizations that promote a boycott of Israel are no longer welcome there.

There is no reason for BDS activist to come to Israel other than make trouble. There is no reason for Israel not to block the entrance into the country of people whose main motivation is to make trouble. The rest is noise, the rest is political propaganda: “anti-Democratic measure” (it is not, Israeli citizens can still oppose Israeli policies), “the policy of autocracies” (not true – a Democratic has the right to decide not to let certain people in, and most democracies do), “will drive young Jews away from Israel” (tough luck, not everything Israel does is aimed at gaining the approval of young liberal Jews).

The bottom line is simple: you want to harm Israel – don’t expect Israel to accept you with open arms. You want to harm Israel – don’t expect Israel to be sensitive to your hurt feelings.


In the news: Israel offers to pay African migrants to leave, threatens jail.

The debate over how to deal with people who seek asylum in Israel has two main components:

  1. Does Israel have the right to block the entrance, or deport, people it does not want as citizens.
  2. What measures can Israel take to achieve such goal.

That we have trouble having this debate is any sensible way is due to the fact that the two camps having this debate do not believe that the motivation of the other side. There are those believing that the other side – while saying he is for a fair treatment of asylum seekers – truly seeks to rob Israel of its right to keep its entry gate. There are those believing that the other side – while saying he merely wants to keep Israel’s cohesive character – are willing to treat asylum seekers cruelty and inhumanly.

In truth, most Israelis – not activists, politicians, headline grabbers, populists – believe is quite simple: keep Israel cohesive, and don’t open the gates to people disrupting its cohesiveness. But also refrain from being cruel, or racist, or inhuman. To achieve such goal, the main challenge is not one of policy, but rather of mutual trust.

We, the Pickles

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most memorable phrase of the past week — the phrase for which his speech at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset will be remembered — is untranslatable.

Yes, you can call it the “pickles speech,” but this makes no sense. In Hebrew, “pickles” is “chamutzim.” In Hebrew, “chamutzim” is also “sourpuss.” So, the “pickles speech” (in Hebrew, “Ne’um HaChamutzim”) is truly the “sourness speech.”

Netanyahu mocked his rivals by calling them “pickles,” as he blamed them for being irreparably sour and dissatisfied. “You are constantly grousing,” Netanyahu said about them, “attacking and nitpicking. … You deal with nonsense, but you know deep down that in democratic elections, we will win.”

Yet the chief pickle of the day was not the usual opposition leader or some party hack. It was Israel’s president, a Likud Party veteran, Reuven Rivlin. Without mentioning Netanyahu or his party by name, Rivlin harshly criticized the attitude of the ruling majority and its tendency to treat all criticism as politically motivated and hence illegitimate. “The media is political, the democratic institutions — everything from the [civil service] professionals to the state comptroller — political,” Rivlin said. “The Supreme Court is political, the security forces are political. And is even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces, political? The entire country and its institutions are filled with politics.”

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal.

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal. They clearly dislike each other, but that’s beside the point. What they say is what’s important, and what they say it what’s disturbing.

Rivlin, rightly, feels that his party and former friends lost their way, and lost their sense of stately responsibility. He did not say this in such words, but what he meant was: You all have become party hacks, no longer caring for the country and its people, only caring for maintaining your government.

Netanyahu, rightly, feels that no matter what he does, his critics grumble. If the economy is doing well, he does not get credit. If Israel is strong, he does not get credit. If terrorism is contained, war is avoided, relations with the United States are solid and Israel’s position in the world improves, he does not get credit.

Both of these leaders lost their trust in the good faith of important institutions — a disease of our time (see this week’s number on the right side of the page). Rivlin, for example, does not believe that the government is acting in good faith to better Israel when it attempts to rein in the Supreme Court’s activists. Netanyahu does not believe that police are acting in good faith to better Israel when they investigate his deeds and misdeeds.

This is a disturbing sentiment, because trust is all a government has in a democratic society. Without the general trust of the public, it cannot properly function. If citizens do not trust the police, they will not complain, nor tell it the truth. If citizens do not trust the courts, they will not accept their verdicts. If citizens do not trust the government, they will search for ways to circumvent the government — to change the rules or ignore them.

Lack of trust is a dangerous disease because it is very hard to heal. Netanyahu is unlikely to heal it, because of his belief that every attempt to mend the differences will be a sign of weakness and used against him. Rivlin is unlikely to heal it because the minute he steps into this minefield, he becomes a suspect in the eyes of those who see conspiracies and enemies around them. The opposition is unlikely to heal it, because it has political motivations that it rarely resists — namely, when opportunity to politicize an issue presents itself, the opposition usually jumps on it and thus reveals its un-stately motivations.

Maybe the next leader, after Netanyahu, can do something to mend this sense of mistrust. Maybe, but Netanyahu is not going away without a fight. Why would he, when all he sees around him are blunt attempts to dethrone him by means other than winning an election — investigations, insinuations, allegations, exaggerations and the pickiness of pickles? n

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sets up office outside Temple Mount to protest ban on visits

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sitting outside the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem in protest on the ban on Knesset members visiting the site, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from the Likud party, held office hours outside an entrance to the Temple Mount to protest an ongoing ban against Knesset members visiting the holy site.

Glick, a longtime activist for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, told reporters that the action Monday would only last one day.

“I’m here to protest the fact that the prime minister won’t enable police to allow us to enter the Temple Mount,” he said. “I suffer every day I can’t enter the Temple Mount.” “There’s no reason in the world to think that my entering the Temple Mount will stir trouble.”

In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist shot and nearly killed Glick for his Temple Mount activism.

Since capturing the Temple Mount from Jordan in 1967, Israel has controlled access but allowed Jerusalem’s Islamic authority to manage the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims alike.

In November 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered lawmakers to stay off the Temple Mount amid a wave of Palestinian terrorism linked to claims that Israel was trying to change the status quo. Israel denied the claims. After Glick filed a petition against the ban, Netanyahu in early July decided to allow lawmakers to visit the site on a trial basis.

However, on July 14, before the decision went into effect, three Arab Israelis shot dead two policemen on the Temple Mount. Israel responded by suspending the plan and installing walk-through metal detectors at the Muslim entrances to the site. Amid prayer sessions, riots and regional pressure, Israel eventually removed the metal detectors. But the ban on visits by lawmakers remains in place.

Still, in July, some 3,200 Jewish Israelis visited the Temple Mount — more than in any month since the state took control of the site.

Natan Sharansky, Naftali Bennett condemn anti-Semitic and racist hate at Charlottesville rally

A demonstrator holds signs during a rally in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia car attack on counter-protesters after the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists, in Oakland, California, U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017. Photo by Stephen Lam/REUTERS.

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett condemned a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the deadly attack on a counterprotester.

Sharansky, whom many Jews in Israel and beyond consider a champion of human rights and liberties, in a statement Monday wrote that he was “horrified by the death of a protester at the hands of one of the marchers.”

“There is no place for such hate speech or violence in any democratic society,” he wrote, “and I am confident that American authorities will do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Ahead of a rally Saturday by far-right activists in Charlottesville, a supporter of neo-Nazis drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring at least 20.

Sharansky, a famed political prisoner of the Soviet Union for his Zionist activities, also said he was “deeply concerned” by the expressions of anti-Semitic hatred in Charlottesville, including against its Jewish mayor, Michael Signer, as well as “other forms of racism and hatred.”

Bennett, a right-wing politician from the Jewish Home party, which is a coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, published a statement on Sunday that criticized the expressions of hatred at the far-right gathering. His statement also appeared to reference the absence of a condemnation by President Donald Trump targeting the far right specifically after the attack.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the U.S. is not only offensive towards the Jewish Community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the U.S. and the entire world from the Nazis,” Bennett wrote in the statement, adding “The leaders of the U.S. must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”

The Trumpification of Bibi

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara react to his supporters during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

It appears that Netanyahu is more emboldened in the Trump era. He seems to be asking himself, ‘If Trump can get away with these things, why can’t I?’ Last night’s rally of thousands of Likudniks in support of Netanyahu, who is facing multiple corruption probes, was peak Trumpification. The Kafe Knesset team hasn’t been to any Trump rallies, but from our observation from afar, this seemed a lot like one.

This originally appeared as part of Kafe Knesset on

Enemy number one for Netanyahu and his supporters, was, of course, none other than the fake news media. “The Left and the media — which are one and the same — are on an obsessive, unprecedented witch hunt against me and my family,” Netanyahu said, calling the media the “thought police.” Sound familiar, American readers? “And the ‘fake news media’ doesn’t talk about all the charity work Sarah does all the time for Holocaust survivors and kids with cancer,” Bibi lamented.

The crowd booed whenever Netanyahu mentioned the media, and a name-check of Ha’aretz warranted the loudest jeers. Someone held a large sign saying “It’s not fake news, it’s f***ing news” (which probably doesn’t mean what he thinks it means) and a Netanyahu supporter was spotted in a “CNN is fake news” t-shirt. Likudniks shouted in the faces of some of the more famous reporters present. Of course Netanyahu has long blamed the media for his problems. He didn’t need POTUS to get that idea. But the style seems to be imported from Trump Tower.

The putsch: There was also a lot of emphasis in the speeches of Bibi and coalition chairman, and rally organizer, David Bitan, as well as the signs held up by attendees, of the Left attempting a “putsch.” They accused the Left of portraying Netanyahu as being “guilty until proven innocent,” rather than the other way around, and trying to unfairly influence law enforcement authorities. They said that the Left couldn’t win an election, so now they’re trying to take over the country in other, less-than-democratic ways.

Old man, new beard: Bibi also used his speech at the rally to burnish his right-wing bona fides, making sure to call out a trifecta of targets of right-wing ire: Oslo, the Palestinians and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Netanyahu cited reports that the Palestinians don’t want to negotiate in hopes that he will be ousted over the investigations, saying that of course they don’t want him out because he will not retreat to pre-1967 lines like the Palestinians want. He said that the last time the press ousted a Likud prime minister – Yitzhak Shamir – by claiming he was corrupt, Israel ended up with “Oslo and exploding buses.” And he mocked Barak as “an old man with a new beard” who speaks “nonsense.” (Barak, by the way, responded with another Facebook video slamming Bibi).

King Bibi: The Bibi cult of personality was in full force as well. “Bibi King of Israel” was a song chanted over and over by demonstrators, and many held signs of his face with the words “My prime minister.” These are actually pretty typical for Likud rallies, but take on a somewhat different meaning considering the context of this one.

“We got 30 seats in the last election – in the next one we’ll get 40,” was Netanyahu’s rallying cry.

There’s no denying that Likud knows how to party. There’s always good dance music playing at Likud events – some Sarit Hadad and some Static and Ben-El, “Whoever believes is not afraid” by Eyal Golan is a perennial Likud event favorite. The Likud members tend to be very chatty, and there are plenty of colorful personalities around, making it a fun night for reporters who are willing to mingle and get creative – as long as they stay clear of some of the angrier types.

Spotted at the Likud rally: It’s August, so people like Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were out of the country but Tourism Minister Yariv Levin went straight from the airport to Tel Aviv’s Fairgrounds in order to make it to the rally; firebrand MK Oren Hazan taking selfie after selfie after selfie, swarmed by Likudniks; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently joined the party and is trying to curry favor with the grassroots; Bayit Yehudi MK Motti Yogev, who said that he thinks Netanyahu is being treated unfairly. Bayit Yehudi sources told Kafe Knesset that the party is not happy with Yogev’s stunt; former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, builder of Dizengoff Center, who ran for Knesset even though he barely spoke any Hebrew, in order to get parliamentary immunity so he wouldn’t be extradited to France.

Kim Jong-Bibi? Meanwhile, the opposition expressed outrage at the show of support for Netanyahu. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid accused the Likud of rallying in support of corruption. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said it reminded her of North Korea, where people are forced to express support for the dear leader. Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said it showed Bibi is insecure, and accused him of trying to distract from the fact that Israeli citizens are paying the price of his corruption. “Netanyahu keeps saying the nation is with him. I call on him to check that in a national election as soon as possible,” Gabbay said.

Netanyahu slams ‘fake news,’ calls investigations a ‘witch hunt’

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently the subject of multiple corruption investigations, lashed out at the “fake news” media at a rally attended by thousands of Likud Party supporters.

Held Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, the rally was organized by coalition chairman and Likud lawmaker David Bitan, who told Israeli media he organized the rally because Netanyahu is being “persecuted” by the media and the opposition. Supporters were bussed in from around the country for the rally.

In his speech, Netanyahu slammed the “fake news” media, echoing a sign at the rally that said “Fake news is f***ing news.” Some journalists said they were verbally abused by rally participants.

Netanyahu called the corruption investigations “an obsessive witch-hunt against me and my family.”

“They don’t want to just take me down, they want to take us all down. They know that they can’t beat us at the ballots, so they are trying to circumvent democracy and topple us in other ways,” Netanyahu said.

“We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an unprecedented hunt against me and my family to bring down the government. They are putting unrelenting pressure on the legal system in order for them to present an indictment without any proof,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently the subject of two corruption investigations. In the first, called Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from billionaires and then taking action on their behalf. In the second, called Case 2000, he is accused of striking a deal with a newspaper publisher in order to receive favorable coverage at the expense of a competitor, Israel Hayom, owned by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Two other corruption scandals target close associates of Netanyahu and both his wife and older son also are targets of investigations.

Netanyahu, a dead man walking (aren’t we all?)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

When there is no news, there is speculation. And in recent days there has been very little news about the criminal investigations into allegations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Investigations are slow and, besides, there is a gag order that’s preventing the news media from reporting about any developments. So there is a vacuum, and the vacuum is filled by speculation, and by ever-chatting politicians and pundits. Some of them try to convince us that the prime minister is a dead man walking. Some are trying to convince us that “there will be nothing, because there is nothing,” which is Netanyahu’s usual response to questions about the investigations.

He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied. Netanyahu suffered a blow last week when his close aid, Ari Harow, signed a state-witness agreement. One assumes that such an agreement only is signed with a witness who has something incriminating to say. One assumes that Harow was in a position that provided him unique access to Netanyahu. What did he tell the investigators? We don’t know. What does he tell his acquaintances? “I did not rat out Netanyahu” is what he says.

Is that possible? Is it possible that the police signed an agreement with a state witness when the witness believes that he said nothing incriminating about his former boss? In fact, it is. It’s possible if what Harow has to tell is open to interpretation. Harow told the investigators stories that he considers legal and they might consider illegal. Harow told them stories that he believes are not incriminating enough to put Netanyahu on trial and they might believe are incriminating indeed and strong enough to indict Netanyahu.

He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied.

Harow might be naïve. He might not understand the severity of his actions. The investigators might be overeager. They might not see that in their zeal to search for an elusive truth, they criminalize trivial actions. As I remarked four years ago, prosecutors have sniffed around every prime minister for nearly two decades, with mixed results. Netanyahu, first term: investigated, not charged. Ehud Barak: investigated, not charged. Ariel Sharon: investigated, not charged. Ehud Olmert: investigated, charged, found guilty (mostly for his actions as the mayor of Jerusalem). Netanyahu, second term: under investigation again.

Olmert was forced out as prime minister because of the investigation and indictment. Netanyahu has vowed not to repeat Olmert’s actions, that he will not leave his position even if an indictment is put before the court. There is no clear indication in the law that a prime minister must resign if he is indicted.

For now, his coalition partners support his position. But political grounds can shift. Today’s support is essential but hardly guarantees tomorrow’s support. The legal situation might be navigable. But Olmert was pushed out by the political system: The Labor party’s Barak forced the Kadima party to get rid of Olmert or else (the coalition would crumble). And, of course, Barak said at the time that his motivation was pure and that his ambition was for Israel not to be corrupt.

Still, more cynical observers and members of the political cast believed at the time, and still believe, that Barak wanted Olmert ousted because of personal ambitions and his belief that a vacuum created an opportunity for him to become more powerful.

So, Netanyahu’s political fate is hanging in the air and a decision to cut short his time in office could only begin with the political system. And that comes with a lot of ifs: if the prime minister is indicted, if the public (not just his rivals but also voters of coalition parties) wants him out, if his fellow politicians master the courage to stand up to him, if coalition partners believe they can benefit from a new election or get more from another prime minister.

Last week, it appeared that some of Netanyahu’s colleagues were beginning to entertain such thoughts. This week, the tide turned, and Netanyahu proved, once again, that he is quite good at disciplining his party members. Likud ministers who were somewhat reluctant to defend him are back on the airwaves, declaring his innocence. They do it not because they like Netanyahu, not because they want him to stay as their leader, not because they are truly convinced that he is innocent; they do it because that’s the smart thing for them to do politically. It is the smart thing to do as long as Likud voters want Netanyahu to stay.

There are four scenarios under which Netanyahu could be forced out. One: If the politicians decide it is time. Two: If Netanyahu believes he needs to step aside and take care of his legal troubles. Three: If he is indicted and found guilty. Four: If the court interprets the law in a way that forces out the prime minister as soon as he is indicted.

What is the timetable for these scenarios to materialize? With politicians, one never knows, but for now, there is not one important member of the ruling coalition who wants Netanyahu to step aside. There also is no sign that Netanyahu is considering leaving. In fact, he has vowed time and again to fight and remain in office. Indictments take time. A lot of time. In any of these scenarios, Netanyahu is not leaving anytime soon.

Of course, there still is the option of a court decision that forces him out. This will not be an easy decision, because unlike throwing out a minister in Israel — a decision that is problematic personally for the minister but hardly impacts the public — throwing out a prime minister would be perceived as a political revolution by the court.

The bottom line is simple: Either we see a change of political hearts or we are destined to slog through a very long process. That Netanyahu might have to leave at some point is true. But that was true even before the investigations began (it is true with every prime minister). That the end is much closer today than it was before also is true.

But that was true even before the investigations began — it is true for all of us with every passing day.

Former Israeli prime minister: Netanyahu enabling ‘budding fascism’

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is encouraging “budding fascism.”

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference Thursday, Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu until 2013, said, “A fanatic nucleus of extremist ideology has taken over Likud by using loopholes in the primaries constitution, purging Likud’s leadership of all those who cherished democracy over populism or some fleeting achievement.”

Netanyahu was responsible for this perceived development, Barak said, whether he it allowed to happen out of weakness or as a “late manifestation” of his own core beliefs.

“If it looks like budding fascism, walks like budding fascism, barks like budding fascism, then it’s budding fascism,” he said. Barak called on Israelis to bring about regime change through democratic means.

Likud in a statement dismissed Barak’s criticism as less than credible given that he was happy to serve as defense minister under Netanyahu.

“This is about clout and jobs [for Barak], not ideology,” the statement read.

Likud and Netanyahu used similar arguments to pooh–pooh critique at the Herzliya Conference by Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member and former chief-of-staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who last month resigned from his post as defense minister.

Yaalon quit after Netanyahu asked him to become foreign minister so Avigdor Liberman could take over the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu brought in Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu to increase the coalition’s majority in the Knesset.

On Thursday, calling himself an “alternative” to the current leadership, Yaalon accused Netanyahu of fear mongering by attempting to scare Israeli citizens about security threats to distract them from Israel’s serious problems. Yaalon said Iran is not an imminent existential threat so long as the nuclear agreement it signed with six world powers is en force, and that “we have to prepare for future events.”

Separately, in an ostensibly non-political move into which Israelis immediately read political motives, two former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, set up a new cultural movement with the stated aim of promoting “hope and not of fear, when fear is sown in all directions”.

Israeli Cabinet OKs appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister

The Israeli Cabinet unanimously approved the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister on Monday, formalizing a coalition deal between his Yisrael Beiteinu party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The vote came after weeks of talks initiated by Netanyahu to add the five Yisrael Beiteinu seats to his ruling government, bringing the total to 66 lawmakers out of the 120 in the parliament, or Knesset, Israel Radio reported.

In the framework of the deal, Lieberman’s right-wing party will also receive the immigrant absorption portfolio, with Sofa Lanver as minister. In another ministerial appointment, Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud was named a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The vote followed a compromise reached between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, who conditioned his joining the coalition on greater involvement by Cabinet ministers in security decisions. Bennett said the prime minister and defense minister did not inform other ministers of important military considerations, such as Hamas’ possession of terror tunnels ahead of the 2014 Gaza war.

Bennett insisted on the appointment of a military secretary to the Cabinet and greater access by ministers to classified information. Netanyahu offered to set up a committee to examine ways to implement these goals but Bennett rejected the offer, leading to a compromise under which the head of the National Security Council will act temporarily as the Cabinet’s military secretary, pending a permanent solution.

The coalition talks followed the May 20 resignation of Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon of Likud amid an open disagreement between him and Netanyahu over Israeli army officers expressing themselves publicly on military and non-military issues.

The disagreement surfaced after Netanyahu condemned statements by Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who on May 5 said Israeli society was witnessing trends reminiscent of those visible in Nazi Germany. Netanyahu condemned the remarks, but Yaalon encouraged officers to continue to speak their minds.

Yaalon said his resignation was over “growing extremism” within Likud under Netanyahu. But Netanyahu said Yaalon had resigned because Netanyahu dismissed him as defense minister, offering instead to make him foreign minister.

On Friday, Avi Gabai of the center-right Kulanu party resigned, citing disagreements with Netanyahu over policy.

The Israeli coalition is now made up of Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Yisrael Beitenu and the haredi Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick moves to Knesset

A year and a half ago, Yehuda Glick was a fringe Temple Mount activist expected to die, the victim of a point-blank assassination attempt.

This week, he was sworn into the Knesset as the ruling Likud Party’s replacement legislator for outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Glick’s journey — from the United States to Israel, from government bureaucrat to outspoken demonstrator at Jerusalem’s most contested site, and from a hospital bed to elected office — is an unlikely one. And Glick’s arrival in the halls of the Knesset reflects the growing reception of his push for Jews’ right to visit and worship on the Temple Mount. From 2009 and 2014, Jewish visits to the site nearly doubled.

Glick has been barred from the mount — revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and was even charged with assault there (the charges were dropped). Glick and his fellow religious activists see his accession to the Knesset as a victory for a just cause after his brush with death. Critics, however, say the power he wields could exacerbate tensions at a regional flashpoint.

“I’m sure that I will be involved in the Temple Mount,” Glick said in an interview on May 22. “Just like I use the justice system and the courts, I think the political world has strong institutions to promote issues in a democratic society.”

Glick, 50, is the director of Haliba, an organization that brings Jewish groups to visit the Temple Mount and fights for Jews’ right to pray there. Previously, Glick was the head of the Temple Institute, a group that builds vessels for animal sacrifice and commissions architectural plans for a future Third Temple on the Mount.

The Temple Mount is under Israeli sovereignty but, under a deal following Israel’s 1967 takeover of the site, is run by the Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian body. Muslims generally have full access to the site and the exclusive right to pray there. Jews can ascend the mount only during limited visiting hours and are forbidden from doing anything resembling worship, such as kneeling, singing, dancing or rending their clothes.

“The discrimination on the Temple Mount is obvious,” Glick said. “The Temple Mount became a center of incitement and hate instead of a center of peace.”

Glick’s critics and supporters alike praise him as a gentle and benign man who seems sincerely interested in enabling members of all religions to coexist on the mount. A 2014 video shows him happily reciting a prayer in Arabic with Muslim worshippers. The men then repeat a verse in Hebrew from Psalms 24.

Analysts say Glick’s activism, however well-intentioned, could empower extremists and heighten an already explosive mood on the Mount. Palestinian leaders have accused Israel’s government of planning to change the site’s fragile status quo, which Israeli leaders fervently deny. The recent wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks in Israel began after riots and clashes on the mount.

“He’s part of a movement that deals in pyromania,” said Daniel Seidmann, an attorney and expert in Jerusalem’s geopolitics. “There are few threats that create a clear and present danger to the most vital interests of Israel more than a radical change on the Temple Mount.”

But David Haivri, a spokesman for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank and a friend of Glick’s, called him “very lovable.” Haivri said that while Glick focuses on a combative issue, he comes at it in a warm and accessible way.

“A lot of people consider him an extremist because he’s so concerned with the right of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount,” Haivri said. “They’ll discover that he’s bringing that to the table with a different type of platform. Extremism is absent in Yehuda Glick’s platform.”

Some of Glick’s fellow travelers are more provocative. When then-Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, visited the Mount ahead of Rosh Hashanah in 2014, he called for Jews in the future to “ascend the Mount and be seen for festivals, to bring sacrifices.”

Glick has also run into his share of trouble at the Mount. He has repeatedly been barred from the site and was charged with assaulting a female Muslim activist in 2014. The charges were dropped in February.

Michael Melchior, a former government minister who was active with Glick’s father, Shimon, in the liberal-religious Meimad Party, also questioned whether Glick should be celebrated as a voice of tolerance. While Melchior admires Glick’s use of universalist language in his Temple Mount work, he said Glick is inconsistent for not advocating for Palestinian rights.

“The human rights motive is used to say, ‘Well, why shouldn’t Jews have the right to pray everywhere?’ ” Melchior said. “But the human rights motive is a universal motive. If you believe in human rights, will you apply that to everything else that has to do with human rights?”

Glick was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., moved to Israel at 9 and now lives in the West Bank settlement of Otniel. He attributes his use of the language of civil rights and equality to his American upbringing. Before his Temple Mount activism, he worked for nearly a decade in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, quitting in protest of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

He became a symbol of the Jewish Temple Mount movement after a Palestinian gunman shot him three times at point-blank range outside a Jerusalem convention center in October 2014. He was discharged from the hospital that November and a month later competed in Likud’s primaries. He won the 33rd spot on the slate — reserved for an Israeli settler.

“I felt that in a democratic country, we cannot allow a situation in which someone who is active democratically, someone who is active to promote a legitimate issue, is attacked physically because of the fact that he tried to work legally,” Glick said.

Last week, Glick tweeted critically of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to oust Yaalon — the decision that gave Glick his Knesset seat. He disapproved of replacing Yaalon — who is viewed as a pragmatist — with the hawkish and unpredictable Avigdor Lieberman, whom he criticized on May 18 for his “way of speaking, changing his political opinions depending on the mood, and [his] lack of trust in the prime minister.”

Sharren Haskel: Likud’s Millenial MK

Sitting down at a leadership dinner last week at UCLA across from John Pérez, the former speaker of the California State Assembly, Sharren Haskel looked barely older than the college students who hosted the event.

At 32, and appearing much younger, the youngest Knesset member from the center-right Likud party doesn’t exactly look the part. 

But for her, that’s exactly the point. In a recent interview at the Jewish Journal offices, Haskel lamented that Israel’s younger generation isn’t well represented in parliament.

She’s building her own political agenda around issues that disproportionately impact young people, such as the high cost of living and rent in Israel. 

Before being elected to the Knesset last year, Haskel, a veterinary technician by trade, spent six years in Australia before returning to Israel five years ago. She also spent a year in Los Angeles, studying at Santa Monica College and learning to surf in Malibu, by her account. 

Haskel is on a speaking tour in the United States timed to a Knesset recess. When she returns to Israel next month, it will be, at least in part, to wed her fiancé.

Jewish Journal: Israelis can be tough, to say the least. How does the bravado-driven culture impact your career as a woman in politics?

Sharren Haskel: You don’t think of a woman as the one who can lead the front lines, or be this general who makes the decision of where to take the troops and what to do with them. But I think that’s what’s so amazing about women in Israeli society, because we all join the army. Many of us serve not just in intelligence or with computers, we actually serve in the field as pilots; [and] we’re on the ground. I served in the Second Intifada. We got [attacked with] rocks, Molotov [cocktails], demonstrations, had to go and do house arrests — really intense physical work. And, obviously, normally any kind of man or woman in any kind of modern society would say this is not a job for women. But it’s not like that in the Israeli society, and I think this is what makes us also a little bit different. 

JJ: It sounds as if you’re saying Israeli society is more accepting of women in leadership roles than most others. Is that the case?

SH: I definitely think the army has made a major impact on my life as a woman. …

I did a commander course, and in navigations [training], usually the guys didn’t want to be with women because, “Women cannot navigate — you know, look how they get lost in their cars or anything.” And in the commander course, every time for three weeks when we did the training — you walk with heavy equipment on you — I would always get to the last point [as one of] the first five [to arrive]. … Suddenly the guys wanted to come and be my partner in navigation, because they saw I’m actually really good at it. And this gave me as a woman an opportunity to actually believe in myself, that I’m equal to anyone else, that I’m capable. My body is physically as capable of doing anything that a male can do, and sometimes even better. 

JJ: How does that experience translate as a Knesset member?

SH: I sit on the [Knesset] committee for [foreign affairs] and defense. This is the most important committee in Israel. I mean, the existence of Israel depends a lot on this committee. And I remember the first time I walked into the committee chamber. … I walk in and I can see all the looks, like everybody just stared at me, and I can see a big question mark on all their faces. “Who is this young woman? Is she an assistant of someone? Is she classified to come in here?” And then they see me sit at the table, and I could see the surprise on their faces. It gave me so much joy — to be able to come and make those important decisions. … It’s a young woman who comes and asks this old general who’s been in the army for years all these questions, and it’s an interesting dynamic.

JJ: Do you think Likud lacks young leadership? Is the party failing to appeal to young people?

SH: There are a lot of issues that are extremely important for [young people] that nobody spoke about before. For example, there’s the problem of cost of living, and how do we solve that. … I took it upon myself to come in and work within the problems of the food industry. … Every kind of food — you’ve got a council, and they’re the ones in charge of who’s going to grow what, how much they’re going to grow, how much they’re going to sell it for, who they’re going to sell it to. You can’t run a business like that. … 

The opposition in the left wing came up with all these ridiculous ideas of how socialism and more involvement is going to solve these problems, and we, the younger generation in the right wing, keep on telling them it is not a solution. We have to liberate the market. And no one was voicing that in the Knesset, no one was speaking about it. And so that’s the voice that was missing in the Likud. This is something that no one speaks about and that I’m bringing in.

JJ: You’ve introduced a bill into the Knesset to decriminalize marijuana. On top of that, you’re the chair of the Lobby for Medical Cannabis. Why did you choose to work on this issue?

SH: Between 2009 and 2011, there were 500 people who sat in prison for up to a year because of self-use of marijuana. This is crazy! To put a person in jail, for a year, destroying his life for something like that — is this something that we need to do? And so this is a core issue of the Likud. We have to fight for justice for these people. Even if you look at alcohol abuse, drug abuse, all these issues: Does it help that we go put them in jail behind bars? Does it help that we open for them a criminal record? If someone is in such a bad place, such a bad state in his life that he’s actually addicted to these things, putting him in jail and opening a record will just push him further and further into the ground. And so what we need to do is invest all these millions of shekels that we invest in courts and in policing and prisons into education, into awareness about drugs and alcohol abuse, into rehabilitation facilities.

JJ: How’s is the fight for decriminalization of marijuana coming?

SH: It’s going to take a long time. There is a lot of opposition. A lot of people are really worried about it. There’s a big stigma about marijuana, that it can cause violence and you can die from it and all of these ideas that we know are untrue. As I said, even if someone’s got a problem — doesn’t matter if it’s marijuana or alcohol — we need to treat it in a certain way. Prison is not the answer.

JJ: What can Likud offer young people who feel there’s no future in Israel?

SH: People who are following me see I’m bringing a lot of new politics into my party and into the Knesset in general. I speak about issues that I’m really trying to drive forward and that are really important to [young people]. I’m their voice. Everything I do, every day I wake up, I enter the Knesset — I come and I deal with issues not for them, for us. … That’s what I bring. I deal with security and defense issues, but also most of my time is on civil issues, environmental issues, social issues, economic issues, things that actually affect their day-to-day to life. This is what I’m bringing for them.

Trump was on Netanyahu’s list of potential donors

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump claims to be a big fan of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In an attempt to talk up his pro-Israel credentials, Trump suggests that he was one of the celebrities Netanyahu reached out to for an endorsement in 2013.

“According to what he said, I’m the only celebrity — he’s used the word celebrity — this was a while ago, that did commercials, that he asked to do commercials,” he said during an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show in September.

According to a document we came across this week, the history between Netanyahu and Trump goes back to 2007 when the Likud leader plotted his return to the Prime Minister’s office. In October 2010, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth published a list of potential major donors prepared by the Netanyahu campaign during the Likud Party’s leadership contest in 2007. The list includes names of foreign and local donors and a reordered list in Netanyahu’s own handwriting, in which he divided donors into four categories according to whether contacting them was “worth the effort.” The first group, according to Yediot, included the foreigners worthwhile of contacting. Numbers 3 and 4 were marked next to the names of millionaires with a small chance of donating.

Donald Trump was one of the donors Netanyahu was seeking to reach out to although he was placed in the fourth category with only a small chance of donating.

Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law Charles Kushner was also on the list in the first category.

Yitzhak Rabin: Timeline of a great leader

1922: Born March 1 in Jerusalem to Russian-born parents.

1941: While still in high school, joins the Palmach, an underground commando unit, to fight British rule in Palestine.

1948: Commands the Harel Brigades that defend Jerusalem during Israel’s War of Independence. 

1964: Rises to chief of staff.

1967: Plans war that erupts June 5 and ends six days later, after Israel seizes West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, Gaza Strip from Egypt, Golan Heights from Syria.

1968: Appointed ambassador to the United States.

1974: Ruling Labor Party names Rabin to succeed Prime Minister Golda Meir.

1976: Authorizes June 27 raid in Entebbe, Uganda, where Israeli commandos rescue more than 100 Israelis from plane hijacked by Palestinians.

1977: Resigns over wife Leah’s illegal U.S. bank account. 

1984: Returns to government, serving for six years as defense minister in Labor-Likud coalition governments.

1992: Labor Party recaptures government in June election, and Rabin becomes prime minister.

1993: Shakes hands Sept. 13 at the White House with PLO leader Yasser Arafat after the first Oslo Accord is signed, offering a framework for autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The two shared 1994’s Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres.

1994: Joins Jordan’s King Hussein in Washington, D.C., to sign declaration ending 46-year state of war.

1995: Signs second Oslo agreement with Arafat expanding Palestinian autonomy. 

1995: On Nov. 4, Rabin, 73, is assassinated after a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Israeli religious extremist Yigal Amir is serving a life sentence for the murder.


Lawmaker makes controversial remark about Israeli flag at Temple Mount

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his government’s commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount after a government minister said it was her dream to see an Israeli flag fly on the site.

“I think it’s the center of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the holiest place for the Jewish people,” Likud party lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely, also the deputy foreign minister, said in an interview aired Monday on the Knesset channel. “It’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount.”

In response, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement on Monday night.

“The policy of the Government of Israel regarding the Temple Mount was expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his statement Saturday night, and nothing has changed,” the statement said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu made ​​it clear that he expects all members of the Government to act accordingly.”

Netanyahu in his statement on Saturday night said that “Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount. As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.”

Hotovely issued a statement as well, saying: “My personal opinions are not the government’s policy, and I am certainly bound by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy as stated on Saturday evening in which he declared that there would be no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount.”

Opposition lawmakers called for her dismissal.

Hotovely has made public visits to the Temple Mount, including the day before her wedding, and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Jewish-Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Palestinian Authority President Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu has continued to vehemently deny.

Embattled from the outset, new Netanyahu government sworn in

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new rightist coalition government, hobbled by a razor-thin parliamentary majority, was sworn in late on Thursday amid wrangling within his Likud party over cabinet posts.

The evening ceremony in the Knesset was postponed by two hours so Netanyahu could divvy up for Likud the remaining ministries, after others were assigned to its four partners. Some Israeli commentators called the manoeuvring “farcical”.

The coalition with conservative, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties controls 61 of parliament's 120 seats, auguring difficulty for the fourth-term Netanyahu in passing controversial policies or even surviving no-confidence votes.

Blowback abroad is also expected. Prospects for resolving deadlocked U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians are dim, Netanyahu is at loggerheads with Washington over its nuclear negotiations with Iran, and Western diplomats recoil at nationalist legislation championed by some in the coalition.

Seconds into his speech unveiling the government, as he pledged that it would “safeguard security, work toward peace,” Netanyahu was interrupted by opposition heckling and guffaws.

But coalition lawmakers managed to get the new government approved by a 61-59 vote, to allow its inauguration by midnight.

Netanyahu has retained four cabinet portfolios for himself, at the cost of leaving key Likud loyalists feeling bereft. That has stirred speculation he is holding the ministries in reserve for Isaac Herzog, head of the centre-left opposition, should they eventually join forces in a “national unity” government.

“I am leaving the door open for broadening the government,” Netanyahu said in his speech. “The country needs this.”

Herzog was combative when he took the lectern, however: “No decent leader would join the 'Netanyahu circus' that you put together at the last minute, on the strength of one seat, only to extend your rule,” he said.

Shortly after winning a March 17 election, Netanyahu appeared to be coasting toward a comfortable 67-seat majority. But in a surprise move last week, he was abandoned by long-time ultra-nationalist coalition ally Avigdor Lieberman.

The guidelines of the new government make no mention of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after talks collapsed in April last year. Instead, they pledge in general terms to “advance the diplomatic process and strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and all our neighbours”.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he had not given up hope for peacemaking.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he was willing to revive peace talks but the onus was on Netanyahu to change course and end Israel's settlements in the West Bank  by 2017.

Israel’s vulnerable governing coalition passes first test

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emerging government scraped by its first parliamentary test on Wednesday, paving the way for the new cabinet to be sworn in after two months of difficult coalition building.

By a narrow 61-59 vote, parliament ratified a legislative amendment allowing Netanyahu to increase the number of ministers he can appoint to his cabinet, enabling him to meet demands from his own Likud party and other coalition partners.

His conservative Likud will head a coalition comprising the far-right Jewish Home party, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas factions, and Kulanu, a centrist movement led by a former Likud legislator.

Netanyahu's razor-thin, one-seat majority in the Knesset may make his government – expected to be sworn in on Thursday – shaky and leave him vulnerable to policy demands from even his most junior partners, extending a long tradition of instability in Israeli politics.

The guidelines of the right-leaning government, released on Wednesday, made no mention of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the foundation of U.S.-led peace efforts, which collapsed in April last year.

In its policy paper, the new coalition pledges in general terms to “advance the diplomatic process and strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and all our neighbors”.

The policy parameters of Netanyahu's previous administration also contained no pledge of support for a future Palestine. However, in 2009 he spelled out his vision for a demilitarized Palestinian nation that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

On the eve of the March 17 election, Netanyahu raised international concern by saying he would not permit a Palestinian state to be established under his watch.

He later backtracked, saying he had never retracted the comments he made in his address six years ago, an explanation that left Washington unmoved.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he has not given up hope for a two-state solution but tensions in the region and “serious questions about overall commitment” have made progress difficult.

“We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate – through policies and actions – a genuine commitment to a two-state solution,” Obama told Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic international newspaper.

Shortly after winning the March ballot, Netanyahu appeared to be coasting toward a comfortable governing majority comprising 67 seats in the 120-member parliament, and he voiced confidence he would be able to form one quickly.

But in a surprise move last week, political ally Avigdor Lieberman announced that his ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party would not join the government, leaving Netanyahu scrambling to meet Jewish Home's demands for key cabinet seats.

Obama administration ‘deeply concerned’ about Netanyahu Arab comments

The Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about Likud Party rhetoric marginalizing Arab Israelis during the recent elections.

“There has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday in his daily briefing.

Earnest did not name Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Israeli prime minister posted a video on Tuesday, election day, urging followers to vote, saying “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the ballot box. The Likud Party also texted voters warning them that voting in the Arab sector was high.

“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said.

Earnest, notably, volunteered the criticism; reporters did not raise the issue with him. He also cast the criticism against the “shared values” that U.S. and Israeli leaders have for decades said the two countries have in common.

“It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” he said.

“We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive,” Earnest said. “And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

Earnest also noted Netanyahu’s rejection in the election’s final days of a two-state solution for the foreseeable future.

“Based on those comments, the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation moving forward,” he said. He prefaced his comment by saying that the U.S.-Israel relationship remained close. “The unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel, including our strong military and intelligence relationships, will continue,” he said.

Earnest also said that President Barack Obama would congratulate Netanyahu once he was charged with forming a government.