This is Dr.Gerstenfeld’s third article on the upcoming Israeli elections, and published here with the author’s consent…
Possible indictment of Netanyahu as a Campaign issue
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said that he plans to announce whether he will indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pending a hearing in February. Most likely, however the hearing and the possible filing of actual charges will have to wait until after the election date of April 9. 1
In the meantime, two party leaders have declared that their parties will not join a government with Netanyahu as prime minister if he is indicted. Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid (There is a Future) whose party is situated between the center and the center-left said so. His party is however not very likely to be part of a Likud-led government.2
More important is that Moshe Kahlon, the current Minister of Finance and chairman of the Kulanu (We all) party, has also said that he would not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu if he is indicted after a hearing.3 According to many polls Kulanu may lose half of its 10 seats during the upcoming election. Yet without this party it could become difficult for Netanyahu to form a government.
At the Leumiada convention, an annual gathering of Likud supporters in Eilat, a poll asked whether Netanyahu should continue as Prime Minister even if criminal charges are filed against him. Almost 70% said that he should continue to serve as prime minister, should such a situation present itself. Only 20% said that he should resign.4
Much will depend on the great unknown, the Hosen Israel (Israel Resilience) party headed by former Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz. He remained silent with one exception. A group of Druze officers visited his home as part of their campaign against the Nation State Bill. This Basic Law specifies the nature of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The law is being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Gantz pledged that he would get the law changed. This led to support from Israel’s left which in turn enabled the Likud to continue its campaign marking Gantz as just another figure from the political left. They were joined in this labeling by the leaders of the Yemin Hachadash Party (New Right) Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.5
As it is probable that the right will form the next government, Gantz would be acting unwisely if he excluded entering a Likud-led government. A former commander of Israel’s army would probably not like to spend several years making public statements and occasionally speaking in the Knesset as an opposition MK.
On January 10, the 10th Labor party convention took place in Tel Aviv. The party’s leader, Avi Gabbay, faced not only cheers but also heckling from some activists. There were shouts of “Gabbay for Prime Minister.” According to the polls, Labor is currently in the fifth place, approximately at the same level as the New Right. The hope for Gabbay to be prime minister seem unrealistic.
Veteran MK Eitan Cabel, verbally attacked Gabbay at the convention. He said: “We can’t sacrifice the party for one man….we can’t be silent when you are killing the only chance for the wonderful people sitting here …. to continue their work.”6 Gabbay managed to overcome the opposition revolt. The convention enabled him to choose the party’s candidates in the second, tenth and sixteenth slots.
In the meantime, two of the 18 Labor MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Mickey Rosenthal have announced that they will not seek reelection.7 If Labor were to win ten seats – which seems high according to the polls — that would leave seven slots to compete for by the current 16 MKs who want to be reelected. That in addition to any new candidates.
The first party to hold primaries was the small National Union which currently holds two seats in the Bayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home) faction. MK Bezalel Smotrich became its new leader when he defeated current leader Agriculture Minister, Uri Ariel, who will be retiring from politics.8
There were rumors that Tzipi Livni’s Hatenuah (The Movement) and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) were discussing running together. Lapid however said on Army Radio “Livni is a leftist. I can not have a political movement with her. Just as I wouldn’t join a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, I wouldn’t join one led by the left.“ Lapid would however welcome teaming up with Gantz. He said that he is convinced that Gantz is not a leftist but a centrist like himself. He added that one has to wait until February for the political field to even out.9
A TV report said that Gantz and Lapid are holding extensive talks on a possible election alliance. The problem seems to be that each of them wants to hold the top spot. In the meantime, former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, who headed the agency from 2011 to 2016, endorsed Gantz.10
A new poll published by Yedioth Ahronoth found that the Joint List only enjoys 42% support among Arabs. 46% are displeased with the party.11
A variety of newcomers have announced that they will run for Knesset seats. The best known is Likud member and former Deputy Chief of Staff, Uzi Dayan, who declared that he wants to be a candidate for the Knesset in order to be Israel’s next defense minister.12