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Bennett-Lapid’s Biggest Mistake

Former Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, via Creative Commons by Middle East Monitor

The biggest mistake the Bennett-Lapid coalition made in its year of governance was not lowering the electoral threshold. The electoral threshold is the percentage of votes a party must receive in order to secure representation in the Knesset. From the state’s founding until 1988, the threshold was 1%, meaning a party could enter the Knesset with a single seat. The threshold was raised in 1988 to 1.5% to prevent a Kach-copycat party from entering the Knesset, as Rabbi Meir Kahane did with 1.2% in 1984. The percentage was raised to 2% in 2003 as Israel ditched separate premier and parliamentary elections and sought another way to secure greater government stability.

The percentage was raised most recently in 2014 to 3.25% to obstruct fringe Arab parties like Hadash and Balad from entering the Knesset, which they did in 2013 with 2.99% and 2.56%, respectively. This was undercut, however, when the two parties along with Ra’am-Ta’al united to create the Joint List, which won 10.54% and 13 mandates in 2015. No attempt to change the 3.25% electoral threshold has been made since 2014.

When the Bennett-Lapid government formed, six of its eight member parties represented seven or fewer mandates. These six parties represented 36 of the coalition’s 61 votes. In the most recent poll before the coalition dissolved these parties were polling at a combined 24 seats.

In the three polls conducted since the list submissions, five of the seven coalition parties are polling below six mandates. These five parties (Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz, Ra’am, and Free Democratic Israel) each have a good chance of falling below the 3.25% electoral threshold, losing representation in the Knesset, and wasting coalition votes.

This not even accounting for Hadash-Ta’al and Balad who could both join the coalition after the election, the former polling consistently at four mandates and the latter consistently under the threshold. This is also ignoring Ayelet Shaked and Jewish Home, who supported the coalition but have since pivoted to the Netanyahu camp, who are polling consistently under the threshold as well.

Much of this lies upon Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz as ineffective bloc leaders. Lapid publicly failed in his attempt to unite Labor and Meretz. Gantz was able to save New Hope and parts of Yamina but left Yisrael Beitanu dancing on the threshold line. Both Gantz and Lapid failed at containing the issues within the Joint List, a potential coalition partner that fell apart at the eleventh hour.

Compare this to Bibi Netanyahu’s leadership of his camp. Netanyahu was able to cobble together Religious Zionism, Otzmah Yehudit, and Noam for another united run. He was similarly able to unite Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael despite their differences. UTJ, the lowest-polling party in Netanyahu’s four-party bloc, is polling consistently higher than every party in the coalition bloc aside from Yesh Atid and National Unity. Netanyahu was able to unite the divided factions of his camp to guarantee their representation in the next Knesset while Lapid and Gantz failed to do the same for their own.

The biggest missed opportunity came and went months ago when the coalition could have used their 61 seats to lower the threshold. The five of their seven parties currently treading water or fully drowning under the threshold would have been secure. Instead, their political calculation to use Naftali Bennett’s impending elimination from the Knesset as a political cudgel to prevent him from opposing the policies of the rest of the coalition backfired spectacularly.

In each of the three polls conducted since the list submissions, Netanyahu’s four-party bloc has won 60 seats. A light breeze would be enough to grant Netanyahu a secure term as prime minister with a narrow, national government. Further, if any one of the five coalition parties currently polling below six ends up falling below the threshold, Netanyahu will be able to form a stable government nearly automatically.

About the Author
Yishai Edberg is a member of the Religious Zionist Party's youth wing. He has previously served as a spokesman and graphic designer for the Yamina Youth and has written for such publications as VISION Magazine, The Post Millennial, and The Israel Press. Jesse is a student at the Tulane University of Louisiana where he is pursuing a degree in political science. The Complete and Translated Poetic Works of Avraham Stern by Avraham Stern, translated with forward and footnotes by Yishai Edberg is available today on Amazon and where books are sold.
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