Israelis and all those physically present in Israel (except for a very small group of privileged citizens) will be going to the polls on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, to elect the 22nd Knesset. The announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the quick legislating the current Knesset’s dissolution was a bit of a surprise.
The tendency was to suggest that Netanyahu wanted to pre-empt any negative for him while awaiting a decision regarding several police investigations, hoping that the Attorney-General would not announce any submissions of a charge sheet to the courts within the time period, as it would be perceived as direct interference in the electoral process. There was the opinion that with no war this summer with Hamas—showing him as not the war-monger that he is portrayed—and that with huge diplomatic successes, with the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and recently, with the uncovering of Hezbollah attack tunnels, he is riding a wave of unmatched popularity.
Plus, there has been is no real opponent, especially with the Zionist Union showing spiraling downward poll results and Yair Lapid’s Atid Party remaining stoic.
But these elections are not the “Bibi Elections.” They appear to be the “BBB Elections.”
The first “B” is, of course, for Bibi. The second is for Benny Gantz.
Despite the failures of middle-of-the-road “savior” parties—Dash of 1977, HaMerkaz of 1999, Kadima of 2006—former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Gantz has established the Hosen Party (mistranslated as “Resilience”) as an across-the-board, everything-in-the-pot political home for right-leaning centrists.
The first casualty of this is Lapid. For months, he has been courting a rightist image on issues of security, the Land of Israel and anti-BDS concerns. Now, along comes a former general, while Lapid, due to medical reasons, had to move from the armored corps to being a military correspondent. And that appearance can shunt Lapid aside.
Gantz’s votes can also reduce some of those going to the Likud. In Israel’s parliamentary system, coalitions are required to obtain a majority in the Knesset. Gantz could be the power-holder limiting Netanyahu’s ability to form the government he wants.
The third “B” is for Naftali Bennett. The bombshell that he and his partner-in-politics, Ayelet Shaked, dropped this past Saturday evening was stunning, at least in its unexpectedness.
Bennett has ridden the old Mizrachi-NRP camp. He has now chucked them off as too extreme and has set off into unchartered waters.
Does he really think, despite Gantz’s move and Lapid, that there are enough votes in the middle to share? Does he presume some of the hard right will follow him? Will the hard right coalesce, finally, into a strong presence, for the first time since Tehiyah more than a quarter century ago? Will he enter into the Likud prior or after the elections? Will he reunite with his old home, the Jewish Home Party, after election day to maximize their coalition strength (here, in Israel, the smaller the stronger)?
I admit, there are too many questions and too few solid answers. But that what makes Israeli politics so fascinating and so exciting.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and commentator.