(July 22, 2019 / JNS) With election season shaping up, several smaller parties on Israel’s right and left are seeking to correct the mistakes of the last election in an attempt to cross the threshold or gain more seats in the next Knesset.
On the right, former Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked took over as leader of the New Right Party on Sunday, replacing Naftali Bennett at the top. With the popular Shaked taking the reins, this has opened up reports that other right-wing parties may join with her under a united right-wing ticket.
Deputy Defense Minister and Knesset member Eli Ben Dahan of United Right reinforced this possibility, telling JNS that he is “happy that Shaked and Bennet are running together again” with Shaked leading the party. “This is good for all. I hope that we will succeed to join together with them, and we can all run together.”
There are four parties that view themselves as being to the right of the Likud, and in the last election, two of them did not cross the 3.25 percent threshold to enter the Knesset, throwing away nearly 200,000 votes. Those “lost” right-wing votes prevented Benjamin Netanyahu from having the 61 mandates needed to form a government, sending Israel to a second election round on Sept. 17.
The New Right Party got closest to entering the Knesset—falling just 1,400 votes short. Initial polls have indicated that this shift gives the party a boost of a few mandates and secures its passing the election threshold in the upcoming election.
Aside from ensuring that New Right’s votes don’t go to waste, Bennet giving Shaked the reigns of the party also opens the door for further mergers on the right. As long as Bennet was the head of the New Right, the United Right list, which is a merger of the Jewish Home and National Union parties, would not consider merging with the New Right unless their leader, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, would hold the No. 1 spot. And that is something which the New Right leader would likely not agree to.
Now that Shaked leads the New Right, United Right list leaders seems to be open to a merger with New Right, accepting the popular Shaked as first on the list.
In an interesting twist, the Likud Party seems to be against this potential merger. Polls showing Shaked bringing additional votes to the New Right indicate that these come at the expense of the Likud. Netanyahu’s goal would be for United Right and New Right to be strong enough to enter the Knesset, providing Likud with significant support from its right flank, yet not drawing votes away from its core base.
At the moment, polls don’t show that even that constellation will be enough for Netanyahu to form a government after elections. The right would still have to find additional votes. This could possibly be done via a merger involving Zehut, the second party not to cross the threshold in the April 7 election. It could also be accomplished by finding a way to weaken Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which while right-wing, refuses to join a narrow, right-wing/religious government led by Netanyahu.
Disunity on the left as well
While the right has seen some progress towards mergers and not wasting votes, the left appears to be struggling. Labor chairman MK Amir Peretz announced a merger with the Gesher Party led by former Knesset member Orly Levy Abukasis, known for her focus on social issues, yet in the right-wing camp on security matters. Peretz announced that Labor will not merge with left-wing Meretz and the Israel Democratic Party, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s new party. That put an end to the hope for a strong left-wing bloc.
Labor Knesset member Stav Shaffir told JNS that “it would be a terrible mistake if Labor doesn’t merge with Meretz and/or the Israel Democratic Party. This is like handing Netanyahu the premiership as a gift.”
Senior members of Labor are furious about the deal, and fear that Shaffir and others may leave the party to join Meretz of Barak’s new party. Shaffir posted a picture of herself together with Noa Rottman (granddaughter of the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin), who is a member of Barak’s party, further fueling this speculation.
Peretz says that merging with Gesher will bring right-wing votes to the center-left camp. Early polls don’t indicate that this will happen, and now this unusual merger between Labor and a party that has been in the right is actually splintering the Israeli left. Meretz and Israel Democratic may still decide to merge, with polls showing that they could win nine seats and secure their joint passage of the election threshold.
Despite all the changes taking place on both sides of the political map, current polls indicate that following the fall elections, a stalemate could again happen. Speculation revolves around something drastic taking place in terms of mergers or new parties in order to change that reality. Until then, parties have until Aug. 1 to submit their final candidate lists to the Central Elections Committee.