May 27, 2024
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Deadlock Looms in Israel Elections

Less than a week before the fourth Israeli election in two years, nothing is as it appeared even a few weeks ago. The polling numbers have radically changed, and the candidates are scrambling to keep up.

When Gideon Sa’ar left Likud to form the New Hope party, he did not imagine that things would stand as they are with the election less than a week away. Every poll over the past week has reflected the fact that the initial enthusiasm among potential voters has faded.

Polls that initially predicted New Hope would win 17-18 Knesset seats now show it winning a single-digit number of mandates, and Sa’ar has one goal ahead of the elections: to stop his party’s freefall ahead of the final poll.

The distress in New Hope has produced one of the most bizarre election campaigns seen in recent years, which included blaming rivals for things that never happened. Adding that to the fact that Sa’ar has so clearly aligned himself not only with the political center but with the hard-left has left many questioning their support for him.

Like Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Sa’ar is, of course, free to switch political sides as he sees fit and leave it to the public to decide whether to follow him. But it is unclear whether the lawmakers he named for his slate—a motley crew of former MKs—will stand by him in the event that he fails to become the prime minister.

Many of them are beginning to realize that claiming to be right-wingers at heart while shunning a Likud-led coalition is a contradiction in terms and therefore impossible.

The same can be said of Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. Seeking the role of kingmaker, he has been keeping his cards close to his vest. He, too, has to perform well in the final voter survey, and he, too, has to adjust to the idea of the alternative if Netanyahu is able to form a government.

Bennett may miss an opportunity to get to be the prime minister for a while—without a rotation agreement that’s impossible anyway—but the long-term damage to the introduction of significant left-wing elements into the government when there is another, clear alternative will come back to haunt him.

No political leader in the right can torpedo the formation of a right-wing government and think he would continue to be considered part of the national camp—not when the only ones rooting for such a move are leftists.

Such a government may be feasible from a legal standpoint, but it will have zero public legitimacy. It would be unable to make any decision—big or small—because its “partners” will undermine it from within and cripple it in a way that will make all of us miss the days of the current national unity government. This is why anyone who sees themselves as part of the right must pledge to join a right-wing government.

The same, by the way, applies to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If he again opts to exclude a right-wing party from his government in favor of one from the center-left bloc he would be no different than Bennett or Sa’ar.

The issues at hand—judicial reforms, dealing with pressure from the Biden administration over the Judea and Samaria settlement enterprise, fighting crime, etc.—are far too important to right-wing voters to be treated as commodities in negotiations with the left.

The Likud has not soared in the polls, but that doesn’t hurt it. Netanyahu has to be able to build up to election day, when he can masterfully shake voters out of their apathy and spur them into action. In that respect, a surge in the polls would be counterproductive.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, for his part, is sparing no effort to undercut Blue and White in the polls with the aim of seeing Benny Gantz drop out of the race at the last minute.

Blue and White has been consistently teetering on the brink of the electoral threshold, but if the final poll shows him holding steady at the minimal four seats, not only would convincing him to drop out be impossible, it would be impossible to convince his supporters to vote for someone else.

By Mati Tuchfeld/Israel Hayom

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