First, the polls, which are numerous and surprisingly close (we included the two latest polls from Maariv and Israel Hayom, as well as Walla’s average of recent polls):
In both the Maariv and Israel Hayom polls, Netanyahu’s obvious path to 61 includes Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which is projected to reach 11 seats in the next Knesset. But it may not be such an obvious choice for Bennett, who both sees himself as the best candidate to be Israel’s next prime minister and whose constituency includes many who would like someone other than Netanyahu at the helm.
But should Bennett join a coalition with Yair Lapid, Gideon Saar, and Avigdor Liberman, they would need to bring in at least one more partner to reach 61 seats, and it’s questionable whether Shas, which has the numbers (almost) would be willing to break ranks with Netanyahu. Bennett might consider demanding a rotation of the premiership with Netanyahu – but history tells us that of all the promises Bibi hasn’t kept in his political life, this one—a rotation leadership with Blue&White chairman Benny Gantz—was as un-kept as they go.
Channel 12 News and Yedioth columnist Amit Segal suggested on Friday that the final stage in Israel’s 2021 election campaign is reminiscent of the ending scene of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Reservoir Dogs, with three veteran gunmen – Lapid, Saar, and Bennett – each aiming his weapon at the other two. In westerns, it’s known as a Mexican standoff, and by the end of the scene, all three gunmen lie dead in the empty street to the sound of a weepy melody.
The difference with the Israeli standoff is that it’s doubtful any of the three has bullets in his pistol, Segal suggests. Lapid—who desperately wants the title of prime minister despite his strategy of being modest and mature about the whole thing—will not be able to refuse an opportunity to replace Netanyahu; Bennett will have to face the possibility that it’s his stubbornness that would drag the country into a fifth election campaign; And Saar, who started his roaring new campaign in the mid-twenty seats, should consider himself lucky to be in the double digits come March 23. And then there’s Avigdor Liberman, the real reason we’re all here, about to participate in the country’s fourth election. Since that heroic refusal to join a Netanyahu government in 2019, Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu has not been able to bring in better than 8 seats in the polls.
After all is said and done, Bennett doesn’t really have a choice. He’ll have to put away those dreams of being the next PM—or embrace an empty promise from Netanyahu that he would be, and wake up disappointed eventually. His best option would be to join Netanyahu’s government but exact as high a price as he can, and it should be a buyer’s market because Netanyahu does not want to enter a fifth election campaign when the evidence portion of his trial is being played out daily.
In the end, the two Haredi parties will not fall drop 15 seats, Smotrich (Religious Zionism) will likely get his four, the Likud is good for at least 28, probably more That’s 50. Across the aisle, Lapid, Saar, Liberman, Labor, and Meretz will also get about 51, but with a great deal more inner conflict – Saar and Meretz do not naturally belong in the same coalition government together. But in strictly mathematical terms, Naftali Bennett is expected to have what it takes to get either camp to the promised land.