As the Israeli election clock ticks down its last hours, Netanyahu’s chances of occupying the prime minister’s office after the March 2nd election seem to evaporate
With less than 24 hours remaining before the current Knesset, the one just elected in October, must dissolve itself and declare a new election on March 2nd, 2020, new polling shows major gains by the Israeli left and a corresponding collapse of incumbent PM Netanyahu’s religious-right coalition.
The new poll gives center-left Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz a record 37 Knesset seats, with the Likud headed by Mr. Netanyahu far behind with only 33 seats. More importantly, the center-left plus Arab bloc is predicted to get 60 seats, just one shy of the 61 needed for a majority coalition. The religious right bloc comes in with only 52 seats, while Avigdor Lieberman’s secularist Israel Beitenu party maintains its strength at eight. This means that even if Lieberman were to find his way back to the right side of the Israeli political map, his eight seats would be insufficient to give the religious right a governing majority.
If this poll were proven right, Mr. Lieberman would lose much of his leverage, since the religious right would not be able to form a ruling coalition in any case, while the center left, with such a clear mandate from the voters, would likely be able to avail itself of many supporters, including those from the two ultra-Orthodox parties.
In light of the leadership primaries within the Likud party that are scheduled for either December 23rd, 2019 or January 6th, 2020, the part of the poll that presents a hypothetical Likud with Netanyahu’s challenger Gideon Sa’ar at the top, is well-worth reviewing. With Sa’ar’s leadership the Likud actually loses seats going down to 29, but so does Blue and White coming in with 33. The change is far more dramatic, in Sa’ar’s favor, in the bloc results, wherein the religious right bloc comes in with 55 seats, second to the left-center-Arab bloc with 57. The remarkably stable Lieberman with his eight seats regains, in this scenario, his king-making aura, since now neither bloc can form a majority without him, but both can do so with his support.
This hypothetical poll shows, if true, that Netanyahu’s leadership has become toxic to many Israelis who blame him for the political gridlock that has lasted now close to a year with no end in sight. His removal from the race costs Blue and White votes that they otherwise got as protest of Netanyahu’s leadership, while at the same time driving many right wingers away from the Likud and into the arms of more extreme right wing parties, which now cross the minimum four-seat threshold giving a boost to the religious-right bloc.
The fall from grace of the Israeli religious right coalition just as it was at the absolute apogee of its power and at a time when Israel has been enjoying unprecedented security, prosperity, and with president Trump’s support the once in a generation opportunity to annex the all-important and strategically priceless Jordan Valley, is the stuff of Greek tragedies.
Like all catastrophes, it is the product of a perfect storm of individually insignificant events coming together at exactly the wrong time. The maturation of the legal cases against Mr. Netanyahu, a general fatigue that accompanies even (and perhaps especially) the most accomplished leaders after more than a decade at the helm combined with the utterly disloyal and sectorial nature of many in the religious-Zionist community to leave Mr. Netanyahu alone, wounded, and bleeding on the political battlefield.
Israel has long had the motto that no wounded would be ever left in enemy hands and extreme sacrifices were made over the decades to make this motto more than just empty words. When it comes to Israeli politics, however, no such gallantry, no such noble feelings exist even among the closest of erstwhile allies. The Israeli Zionist right will long live to regret this self-inflicted defeat, but that is beside the point. What is really important and really sad is that so will all of our nation, in Israel and in the diaspora alike.
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