(December 26, 2018 / JNS) To pose a viable alternative to the Netanyahu government in the April 9 Knesset election, the left-wing parties must form a bloc. Paradoxically, if they do, the prime minister could also benefit.
But for now, any left-wing bloc seems a distant prospect, mainly because of the overblown egos of the key players.
According to recent polls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can rest easy. Given the current lineup of parties vying for seats, Likud will still be the biggest party and Netanyahu will be the person to put together a coalition.
The polls show Likud not only ahead, but ahead by a large margin.
What could change things would be if a left-wing bloc actually happens—if former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz decides to join Yesh Atid or the Zionist Union, or if MK Orly Levy-Abekasis joins an existing party, or if there is an even bigger upset, like the one former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is seeking—that would unite several parties and form a camp united against Netanyahu.
Such a bloc would certainly serve the interests of the left and theoretically should be keeping Likud officials up at night. But that is not necessarily the case.
What Netanyahu should be worried about is a scenario in which Likud leads the rest of the parties by a large margin, and the entire campaign assumes that victory is already his.
A scenario like that would feed Netanyahu’s worst enemy: complacency. Right-wing voters who think the election is a done deal could wind up casting ballots for one of the satellite parties: Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, Kulanu or even Orly Levy. Worse than that, they might stay home.
Tensions between two large parties each saying they deserve to lead the country could spur more people to vote for Likud. This happened in the 2015 election, when Netanyahu alarmed voters that the left could take over, and the right-wing bloc fell into line behind Likud.
This time, an electoral victory will not be enough for Netanyahu. Having the government in his hand is not worth much if a few months after the election the attorney general files an indictment that causes him to resign.
Netanyahu wants to keep serving, even if he is indicted, without anyone in the coalition trying to oust him. He can only have that if he not only wins, but wins big.
On Monday, Netanyahu addressed coalition party leaders and told them that the outgoing coalition would form the base for the next one if he was the one to assemble it. He meant what he said. The haredi parties and Habayit Hayehudi are vital partners for Netanyahu because he knows they will not kick him out over indictments.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, if he joins the next coalition, would give Netanyahu the line of credit he needs. The rest—Kulanu, Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz, Zionist Union, Orly Levy—could make life difficult for him. But the bigger the Likud victory, the more loyalty Netanyahu can demand.
What is holding up a coalition on the left is the outsized egos of the party leaders, whose like we have not seen for some time. Politicians’ overly high opinions of themselves have always been part and parcel of elections, but in the current situation, where it is clear to everyone that without a left-wing unity bloc the entire camp will disappear, one might expect that someone would wake up and bow out. That hasn’t happened. Yet.
In the 2015 election, then-Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog understood that concept and managed to create real tension between the right and the left, especially towards the end, when the Zionist Union overtook Likud in the polls. All he needed to do was bend a little and agree to serve as prime minister in rotation with his co-leader, Tzipi Livni.
Today, no one seems willing to do that. Not Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, not Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Gantz could announce that he will run as No. 2 with one party or another, and that would be welcomed. But he hasn’t done that. So the idea of a left-wing bloc is stalled until something new happens.
It was a little heartbreaking to see Moshe Ya’alon announce on Monday that he was founding a new party. The announcement made no waves, garnered no response or interest. Less than two years ago, Ya’alon was not only an esteemed defense minister and successful former chief of staff, he was also a promising candidate to lead Likud after Netanyahu’s departure. He does not have much political capital left, and without joining an existing party, it does not seem there will be a seat for him in the next Knesset. He may find one in the Knesset Channel’s studio.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.