Right bloc with all its seats fight over ‘ego’

THE MARLOW REPORT:

There will be 3 elections in Israel. The first will be on 23 March when the Israeli registered voters will have an opportunity to choose a party of their choice. The second election is when the President meets with the leaders of each party and asks, “Who do you wish to nominate as Prime Minister?”

The third election is the political parties who pass the minimum threshold of 3.25%, (equivalent to 4 Knesset seats), vote either for a government that has to reach 61 seats or more, or vote to oppose a newly formed government.

The left will receive a handful of seats. The Arab vote will go down and the centre-left Yesh Atid party, cannot crack that 20 seat mark.

According to all polls, Likud is on 29-30 seats and that’s a strong 10 seats ahead of its nearest rival, Yesh Atid. So the closest path to a workable government is Likud, Shas and UTJ with around 45 seats. Bibi will then need to convince Naftali Bennett and Yamina with around 12-13 seats to join him.

Now Bennett is going to put a very high price on his party joining the coalition, with a demand of several senior ministries, Knesset committee chairmanships and a commitment to reduce the power of the Supreme Court. With the Religious Zionists led by Betzalel Smotrich likely to pass the threshold, Netanyahu will have his magic number of 61 seats.

Any other coalition is much more complicated because they involve issues of “ego”. Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett all wish to become Prime Minister and are unlikely to come to an agreement between themselves. In addition, in order to reach at least 61 seats, the anti-Bibi bloc would have to include right and left-wing parties along with the Arabs, which is non-workable at any level.

The crazy thing is the Right bloc will win 80 seats or more if you add Likud, New Hope, Yamina, UTJ, Shas and Yisrael Beitenu. But several of these parties refuse to work with each other, which is why we keep having elections. In other words, almost everyone is ruling out sitting with almost anyone.

You have to go back to 1992 when the Right bloc fell out with each other, and not only did they bring down the Yitzhak Shamir government, they brought Yitzhak Rabin to power and the dreaded Oslo Accords.

The split in the Right camp today is not about ideology. It’s about personality and the inability of party leaders to accept Likud, under Netanyahu, winning more seats than any other party.

But Naftali Bennett is currently playing the best strategy. By not committing to refuse to sit with Netanyahu, like Lapid and Sa’ar have done, Bennett is playing both sides of the political spectrum. This makes Bennett a major player in the game, even though he is only polling around 12 seats.

Yamina rightly wants to see the final results of the election before it makes its moves and begins negotiating deals. Bennett has said on numerous occasions, “We thank you Bibi for what you have done for the county, but it’s time now to resign”. This rhetoric gives Netanyahu more energy to want to continue fighting, and right now he is still winning.

Gideon Sa’ar says under no circumstances will he work with Bibi. Bennett’s people are not convinced. We have all heard this before. So many leaders over the years have said, “Anyone, but Bibi”, but they end up cracking and sitting with him.

Benny Gantz was not unique when he broke away from Yesh Atid and Telem and proclaimed, “The country cannot afford to keep having elections with a Covid crisis, and so we have to join the government”.

Ehud Barak insisted he would not sit with Netanyahu but he did. Tzipi Livni said the same thing, but she ended up sitting with Bibi. Avigdor Lieberman refused to join the Bibi government, but he succumbed. Moshe Kahlon broke away from Likud with his Kulanu party, but he ended up joining a Bibi government. Amir Peretz said, he would never sit with Netanyahu, but he did – twice. Yitzhak Herzog said he would never join a Bibi government and he almost did. Avi Gabbay said he would never join, and he almost did.

Benny Gantz was ridiculed and condemned for joining Likud last summer. But with the Covid crisis out of control, Gantz did the right thing, at the time. Now his Blue and White party may not even cross the minimum threshold. If fact, out of all the names mentioned above, the only player still in the political show, is Lieberman, and he is only polling 6 to 7 seats.

Some voters have such short memories and are quite naïve when they claim, “I really believed the candidate when he said it”.

Bennett will do everything he can to unseat Netanyahu. But if it is not possible, (and at this stage, it doesn’t look very likely), Bennett will have two choices. To either get the best deal he can for him and his party or face a fifth election and the possibility of economic collapse, at a time of immense danger on Israel’s borders. It takes leadership to make tough decisions.

IMPORTANT DATES

Election television and radio commercials begin: March 9

Diplomats and soldiers begin voting: March 11

Final polls released: March 19

Election Day: March 23

Final results presented to President: March 30

Deadline for President to choose a candidate to form government: April 06

Deadline for the first candidate to build coalition: May 18

Deadline for the second candidate to form a coalition: June 15

Failing the above, deadline for any MK to form government: July 6

Date of next election of no government is formed: October 5

ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS:

Rabbi Chaim Druckman together with several other leading right-wing religious Zionist Rabbis have formally endorsed the Religious Zionist party, which is comprised of the National Union, Otzma Yehudit and the Noam parties. Druckman has in the past been tightly allied with the Jewish Home, (the successor of the National Religious Party, Mafdal, in which he served as an MK). Jewish Home, headed by Hagit Moshe, is not running after signing an agreement with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party where she would quit the race but backs Yamina in the election.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai who set up the Israelis party and vowed to run against PM Netanyahu, but ended up dropping out of the race because he had little support, has endorsed Labor leader Merav Michaeli. Huldai wrote on his tweeter account, “As someone who has been a Labor party member most of my life, I am happy to see its renewal and awakening”.

In a “town hall” meeting, (but really on zoom) Naftali Bennett said Yair Lapid is not worthy of becoming Prime Minister but was careful not to rule Lapid out. Yamina’s number 16 on the party list, Jeremy Saltan, who is an Anglo, said Gideon Sa’ar is just right-wing but doesn’t have any policies on how to deal with the economy or Covid. He is just anti-Bibi.

Religious Zionists head, Betzalel Smotrich distanced himself from a campaign video on social media, of far-right-wing Otzma candidate, Itamar Ben Gvir. The advert falsely put Holocaust and Hitler jokes in the mouth of Arab Labor party candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana Menuhin. Religious Zionists are running with Otzma in order to pass the minimum threshold.

The Central Elections Committee voted 16-15 with 2 abstentions to ban Labor’s number 7 candidate, Ibtisam Mara’ana Menuhin from running for Knesset. In the past, she has made many insensitive comments about the Holocaust.

Benny Gantz claimed on Channel 12 News, if his Blue and White party fails to make it back into the Knesset and there is a transitional government headed by Netanyahu, he will immediately fire the remaining Blue and White Ministers, which will “remove all remaining checks on Netanyahu’s power and turn Israel into a monarchy”.

130 IDF commanders and former senior security officials issued a personal letter to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The letter which was published in newspapers called on him and his party to drop out of the race. The letter said “There is a great danger that a radical government will be formed, so we are calling to him as friends. “We think he should drop out so as not to put the entire (Left) camp in jeopardy.” The letter ended with the words, “We expect Gantz to act responsibly”. Blue and White replied, “Only a strong Blue and White will prevent Bibi from appointing Amir Ohana as justice minister, ousting Avichai Mandelblit and appointing his own Attorney General.  

Writing an opinion in the Jerusalem Post, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (formerly Likud and Kadima) claimed the Labor leader, Merav Michaeli (who is polling 5-6 seats) is the true opposition to Netanyahu. “She’s still the most honest, consistent and determined person who stands against Netanyahu”. Olmert referred to Bibi as the leader of the “fascist right-wing bloc”, calling him a crook, criminal, greedy, racist and fascist. (Please tell us what you really think Mr. Olmert)

Olmert also called Naftali Bennet and Gideon Sa’ar very similar. “They’re in favour of a greater Land of Israel, of settlements, and the continued occupation of millions of Palestinians who live in the territories, with no chance for self-determination or national, civil and equal rights”. The former PM then dug into Yair Lapid saying, he was not centre. “But neither does he belong to the Left or to the Right. “He’s somewhere out there in the middle of nowhere. “He winks to the Left, smirks to the Right and beams at the centre”.

Yisrael Beteinu head, Avigdor Lieberman called upon Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett and all anti-Netanyahu parties, to nominate the leader of the second largest party for Prime Minister, after the Likud. Approximately one week after final results are confirmed, the President meets with all heads of parties and asks them, who should be the candidate given the task of forming the next government. Lieberman was speaking on Kan News, but did not mention Yair Lapid, by name.  

About the Author
James J. Marlow is a broadcast journalist and public relations media consultant. He has previously worked for ITN, EuroNews, Reuters, Daily Mail, Daily Express, LBC Radio and Sky News. In addition he has trained and prepared hundreds of business and entertainment people, politicians and Rabbis, for the media, including television, radio and audiences.
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