Netanyahu still the man to beat


It turns out that Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t win Israel’s April Knesset elections after all. When the clock ran out last week, he was unable to form a parliamentary majority to lead a new government.

Reports indicate that, at the 11th hour, he tested a number of different alliance and joint-governance possibilities, but came up short. Rather than allow for his rivals to make the coalition-building effort, Netanyahu and the Knesset voted to call for new elections in September.

Will the results be any different? The Israeli electorate is still divided along left-right and secular-Orthodox lines. The right-wing/Orthodox bloc is still a majority of the electorate. And it is likely that the fall elections will be a replay of the spring vote. But there could be some interesting wrinkles, which could produce enough shifts to allow for a different outcome.

Likud and Kulanu: Likud won’t even hold primaries; they will go with the list they had last month — with perhaps some tinkering. But Likud has already announced a merger with Moshe Kahlon’s center-right secular Kulanu Party. Kahlon is the outgoing finance minister, and will now be elevated to a top Likud slot. ulanu won three Knesset seats in April. In a new vote, that support could strengthen Netanyahu’s coalition-building hand.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked: These two very popular right-wing leaders made a big mistake in the last election by splitting from their Bayit Hayehudi Party. Their New Right Party missed the electoral threshold by a few thousand votes, and they were shut out from the coalition bargaining. They now have a second chance. On Sunday, Netanyahu announced that he was firing Bennett and Shaked from their current ministry positions. While it’s not clear what they will do next, or whether they will even stay together, it is worth watching them.

The two haredi Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, look strong. If voter turnout is low in September, the highly disciplined haredi voters will likely carry more weight, and these parties may pick up more than the 16 seats combined than they won in April.

Blue and White: The new center-right party made a good showing, placing second, but couldn’t deliver a government. They would probably have liked to spend a couple of years in the opposition to develop a stronger following and policy specifics. Most parties in Israel come and go. This one could easily lose votes and politicians to the Likud.

Because of the call to elections, the lame-duck Knesset can’t do very much, and they certainly won’t pass a law immunizing Netanyahu from charges of corruption. But as Israel moves forward, there is the gnawing question whether the political wizard has lost his touch. And there are myriad other national and international issues which could affect the September vote – including the role Donald Trump chooses to play.

Netanyahu may have stumbled, but he is still the one to beat.

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