Gantz Tops the Polls, Netanyahu, the Social Media – for Israel’s Election
With a month to go to the April 9 general election, opinion polls presage victory – albeit by a small margin – for the Blue-White party alliance, making its leader Benny Gantz the first real threat Likud’s leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, has faced in his decade-long reign as prime minister. It must be said that, despite their waning credibility, the polls are often treated cumulatively as signifying a tendency.
In the course of Israel’s political history, a single party has almost never ruled alone. Prime ministers are therefore routinely chosen by the size of the coalition they can enlist. And so, blocs matter critically. When counted en bloc, this time round, the right-wing factions led by Netanyahu are pulling slightly ahead by 61 Knesset seats to Gantz’s 59. This calculation brings the small parties to the fore. By a kind of osmosis, the large parties are gaining ground while the small fry are shrinking, most of them struggling to reach the 3.25pc threshold (equal to 4 Knesset seats). The strugglers belong to the political right. If they get through, they will jump the Likud bloc to a majority; if not, their votes are wasted.
In contrast to the scenario sketched by the polls, the social media place the prime minister and his Likud party far ahead with roughly 50pc of the ballot to Blue White’s 30pc.
A straight fight between the two presents two alternative results. However, some party activists in both camps are tossing around a third option. Contending that “the election is already over,” they are preparing the way for an alliance between the two dominant parties for a national unity government. The premiership would rotate between their leaders, Gantz (not between him and Yair Lapid, as agreed when their two factions merged into Blue-White) and whoever Likud potentially chooses as Netanyahu’s successor. The prime minister would then be free to fight the legal battles ahead of him to clear his name, and Blue-White leaders would achieve their overriding goal of overthrowing Netanyahu, without losing the Likud party’s weighty popular backing.
This scenario is grounded in a couple of hypothetical assumptions:
1. Some Likud factions may possibly be as eager as Gantz to remove Netanyahu and replace him with a new face. For now, there is not the slightest sign of the prime minister planning to make way for a successor.
2. A national unity government would be popular – up to a point, provided Benny Gantz as prime minister sweetened the Likud following by appointing Likud ministers to top jobs.
3. Government-sharing with Likud would absolve Blue-White from having to depend on the silent support of Arab parties for a left-of-center bloc strong enough to outweigh the Right. None of its leaders, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon or Gaby Ashkenazi, would accept this. After all, the political platform they unveiled this week called for keeping Jerusalem undivided and maintaining the settlement blocs of Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty.
Without the Arab parties (app.12 Knesset seats), the grouping headed by the Blue-White list can’t count on more than 48-49 seats compared with an estimated 59-61 right-wing Knesset members. Therefore, Gantz is hardly in line to form the next government. The Likud too find itself hobbled by the fragmentation of the rightest camp after Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked defected from Habayit Hayehudi and set up the New Right. It would seem that a national unity administration is the only way out of Israel’s political impasse. But this solution too faces two large obstacles: One is Binyamin Netanyahu; the other, Yair Lapid. The former has never promised to step down after the elections; the latter has not said he would renounce his stint as prime minister after Gantz, under the pact they formally signed when their Future and Resilient Israel parties merged to form the Blue-White party. The election is therefore far from over. Netanyahu, for instance, has been known to initiate quiet negotiations with unexpected partners behind everyone’s backs. Therefore, up until April 9 – and even beyond – all options are open.