WHICH BLOC WILL BE THE BIGGEST?
By February 21 all lists of candidates for the Knesset were turned in to the Central Election Committee. There were major developments in the days before. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervened to convince the Jewish Home –Zionist Union alignment to include two representatives of the extremist right wing Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party in its list.
This joint list will split again after the election in its two components. Otzma Yehudit was unlikely to pass the election threshold of 3.25% by itself. This would have meant the loss of tens of thousands of right wing votes for the bloc Netanyahu intends to create. As an aside to the above agreement the Likud included a candidate from Jewish Home in the 28th place on its list, who will, if elected, join the Israel Home faction.
This agreement led to much criticism from pro-Israel organizations abroad including the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.1 The agreement was yet another reason for the anti-Israel New York Times to criticize Netanyahu in an article with a number of mistakes.2 So far the paper has only corrected one of these.3
The Coalition for Jewish Values, which groups over 1,000 traditional rabbis in the United States, rejected this intervention of American Jewish organizations in Israel’s internal affairs. It claimed that Otzma Yehudit’s positions are moderate compared to the statements, positions, and outright support for terror of several Arab Knesset members.4
The chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, said that there was no precedent of a party placing a candidate on another party’s list who would thereafter return to his original party. He said the legal aspects of this arrangement would have to be investigated.5
On the evening of February 20th an agreement was reached between Benny Gantz, leader of Israel Resilience, and Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid (There is a Future) to have their parties run together. This agreement was reached with the mediation of former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi who agreed to be the number four candidate on the joint list. The new list’s name is Blue and White.
Gantz is heading the list followed by Lapid. Moshe Ya’alon is third. Thus, 3 out of the 4 first candidates will be former IDF chiefs of staff. There are another two major generals among the first 20 candidates of Blue and White, Orna Babirai and Yair Stern. If Blue and White is able to form a government, the parties have agreed that Gantz will serve the first two and a half years as prime minister and will then give up the position to Lapid.
Until the last moment there were speculations that the new Gesher party led by Orly Levy-Abekasis would join Israel Resilience. This did not happen and several polls show that Gesher may not pass the election threshold.
In the latest polls Blue and White is gaining more seats than the Likud. This does not necessarily mean that it will be able to form a government. It is unlikely that together with its potential partners, Labor and Meretz, it will reach the 61 seats necessary to govern. It is possible though that together with the support of the two Arab lists it can create a bloc to prevent the Likud and other right of center parties from being able to form a government. For that to happen the Arab list of Ra’am-Balad would have to pass the threshold. According to some polls this is not the case.
Many scenarios are possible. One is that due to the competition between Blue and White and the Likud these parties will take votes away from their potential government partners. This could be particularly damaging for the Likud as it may push Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu below the election threshold.
Lapid has said that after winning the elections Blue and White will first turn to the Likud to form a National Unity government. He remarked that Netanyahu will not stay if he loses. Lapid added that the Likud is an important Zionist party with important people.
This led to reactions from several sides. The Likud reacted that Lapid and Gantz will form a government with the support of the Arab parties because they have no other choice. Another Likud reaction was that Lapid will first call Tamar Zandberg, the leader of Meretz. She has said that she is willing to give up the Golan Heights.
Zandberg cautioned that Gantz and Lapid will form a right-wing government. Labor leader Avi Gabbay said that a vote for Gantz is a vote for Netanyahu adding that only a vote for Labor is a vote for a political upheaval. Another Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who is the opposition leader, said that it was evident that Lapid and Gantz plan on serving as ministers in a government led by Netanyahu.
The current situation promises an extremely heated election campaign. That derives both from the battle for first place and from the fact that for some of the smaller parties it is a matter of to be or not to be. It is clear that the joining of Gantz and Lapid in the Blue and White list has greatly increased the uncertainty in the election campaign.
1 www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Benjamin-Netanyahu/Netanyahu-confirmed-for-AIPAC-conference-on-heels-of-extremist-rebuke-581602; //www.jns.org/amid-american-jewish-criticism-over-otzma-yehudit-concern-arises-over-language/