Consolidation of the Israeli left under a trio of military leaders may yet prove challenging to the right-wing block under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu
And… the new post Benny Gantz debut event polling is in. According to the Walla News poll taken after the nationally broadcast speech by the leader of the new Israeli Resiliency party Benny Gantz, his gambit of combining forces with the ex-Likud Defense Minister and notorious Netanyahu nemesis Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon is indeed bearing fruit. Netanyahu’s Likud is losing about four seats in the Knesset, remaining the largest party with 29 seats and the new Israeli Resilience party skyrockets to number two with 19 seats. The real story behind the poll is that Israel, after a period of turmoil that started 25 years ago with the signing of the disastrous Oslo accords is finally reverting to its original bipolar structure with two major blocks competing for the voters’ trust. The right-wing block, headed by Netanyahu and the Likud comprises of 29 Likud seats plus seven seats from Ultra-Orthodox party, seven the religious Zionist New Right, five from the secular, but well-know security hawk Avigdor Lieberman, and four by the other religious Zionist party, the Jewish Home. Total seats for this block are 52 (61 is needed to form a coalition government).
Left bloc comprises of 19 seats for Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, plus 12 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, seven for the remnants of the Labor party, five for the ultra-liberal Meretz, and four for the new party focused on economic equality headed by Orly Levi Abekasis. Total seats for this bloc are 47.
If this poll is correct and in the unlikely event that nothing changes until the April 9th election, the fate of the government will be decided by a few center and opportunistic parties. These are Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu (All Of Us) with five seats, and the narrowly sectorial Shas party under the leadership of Aryeh Der’i with four seats. Kahalon and Der’i, both represent majority Sephardi Jews, though Kahalon’s voters are less orthodox than Der’i’s. Both will join the coalition that promises more “goodies” to their voters, most of whom are from the lower socioeconomic strata in Israelis society. If these nine seats join with the left, it will have 56 seats, still a few short from a governing coalition. If they join the right, they will help build a stable center-right coalition relying on 70 members of the 120-member Knesset.
However, there is another way for the left to win a majority and that is to rely on external support by the two Arab parties, together totaling 12 seats. Arab parties have never actually participated in Israeli governments because they deny the foundational tenet of Israel as a Jewish state and because they represent a security risk, should they be exposed to sensitive information while taking part in government meetings. That being said, these parties can vote with the coalition without actually being a part of it, giving it a parliamentary majority. This is, however, an entirely theoretical scenario, since the two anti-Zionist Arab parties will not want to support a coalition led by two former IDF Chiefs of Staff and they, in turn, will not want their support.
Another, more likely, scenario is further consolidation of the left block, with the Israeli Resiliency party led by the two generals Gantz and Ya’alon combining forces with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and adding yet another general, ex-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. According to the Walla poll, this makes the new combined list the largest party in the Knesset and gives it a path to a narrow 61-member coalition. Whether such a combination is possible will depend on Yair Lapid suborning his famous ego to three charismatic generals and settling for what would de-facto be a number three or number four position. Furthermore, polling on hypothetical scenarios is rather unreliable. In the end, what it will all come down to is the appetite of the Israeli public to risk replacing the known quantity Netanyahu with a virtual unknown (as a national leader and a politician) in the person of Benny Gantz and the willingness of the forces on the left to put aside their egos and present the public with a combined list that would be worthy of its support. Time will tell.