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Roytenberg: Israel’s political shakeup

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 Photo)

Israelis are heading to the polls on April 9. In my last column, I gave a summary of the Israeli political parties that held seats in the last Knesset, an overview of some of their policies and their standing when the legislature was dissolved in early January.

In the few weeks since then, the Israeli political landscape has shifted extensively. The Zionist Union, the second-largest party in the last Knesset, no longer exists and several other parties have split. Meanwhile, a new party called Israel Resilience has emerged as the principal challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Likud controlled 30 seats in the last Knesset and thus far, polls project a very similar result on April 9. The Zionist Union, which had 24 seats in the last Knesset, collapsed after Labor Leader Avi Gabbay expelled Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah
party, the other partner in the union. Hatnuah is in danger of falling below the 3.25 per cent threshold, which would prevent it from getting into the next Knesset, while Labor, which dominated all Israeli governments for the first 25 years of Israel’s history, is projected to only win five to seven seats.

Jewish Home has split, as Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked broke away to form the New Right, which is now projected to win seven seats. The rump of Jewish Home, under new leader Amir Peretz, is currently projected to take five.

The Joint List, which gains most of its support from Arab-Israelis, has also split, with three parties running together and projected to win six seats. The Ta’al party, led by Ahmed Tibi, is running on its own and projected to win five seats. Ta’al is a secular Arab nationalist party that advocates for the interests of Arab-Israelis and is critical of Zionism.

Israel Resilience (IR) was founded in December. It’s led by Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff of the IDF from 2011 to 2015. On Jan. 27, IR joined forces with Telem, a new party founded by Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. That same day, Gantz addressed the nation, laying out his political platform.

Gantz criticized Netanyahu for being a leader who serves himself, while dividing Israelis. He took a tough stance on security, while promising to pursue regional peace. He promised to amend the so-called nation state law. Expressing centrist positions on economic issues, he promised marriage reform and to implement the Western Wall agreement. Since the speech, IR has gained in the polls and is now projected to win between 22 and 24 seats.

READ: ROYTENBERG: AN IDIOT’S GUIDE TO THE ISRAELI ELECTION

After the election, the party with the largest number of seats gets the chance to form a government. Therefore, the pundits are looking for partners that could lift IR over Likud and give Benny Gantz the chance to become Israel’s next prime minister. Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, which is currently projected to win nine or 10 seats, would appear to have the support to do that. Polls pitting a hypothetical alliance of Hosen Yisrael and Yesh Atid against Likud have shown the alliance coming out ahead. Labor and Hatnuah are also potential partners.

In response to this threat, Likud might also look for allies. In the past, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party has run jointly with Likud, but Lieberman angrily quit the government just two months ago over the handling of the recent violence in Gaza. Kulanu, which is led by Moshe Kahlon, is another possible Likud ally. Kahlon, who once belonged to Likud, led Kulanu to 10 seats in the last Knesset. Current polls put Kulanu at five seats.

With New Right and Jewish Home jointly projected to win 12 seats, the right, together with the religious parties, still looks set to win a majority. In order to have a chance to form the next government, Gantz will have to find a way to draw votes away from Likud.