Will new elections change the political map and lead to a clear decision between the two main blocs? Four consecutive elections have failed to produce a decisive result for either bloc, and so, after the third try, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz attempted to co-exist for about a year, and after the fourth, the strangest bunch of bedfellows took over and they, too, don’t appear to go anywhere. So, why should we expect a fifth election to produce different results (and, by the way, it wasn’t Einstein who said that bit about madness and expecting the same action to produce different results – the first time it appeared in print was in a 1981 article about 12-step programs).
The latest Panels Politics poll, published by Ma’ariv Friday morning, shows the Likud under Netanyahu with 34 seats, Religious Zionism with 11 (they’re in double digits!), Shas with 8, and United Torah Judaism with 7. Amazingly, that comes up to 60 without having to compromise with questionable center-left partners such as Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz. But it’s not enough for a solid right-wing coalition that would change the Israeli political landscape, especially regarding future Supreme Court appointments, the lawless Israeli Arab and Bedouin population, Israeli sovereignty in the liberated territories, and control over the Temple Mount – the list is practically endless.
To get there, a victorious Likud Chairman Netanyahu would have to bring in two right-wing parties that have been battered in their year away from the core: Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope. Both are in tatters, both could face extinction below the vote threshold – and both are practically identical with Likud and Religious Zionism in terms of ideology.
There are two issues when it comes to embracing the two prodigal sons, Bennett and Sa’ar:
1. Netanyahu may not want them back, despite their obvious value to his future coalition government. He views both of them as potential heirs apparent, and he loathes them both. If Bibi wanted them to come back, he certainly has the political skills to do it. But he probably doesn’t want to, because –
2. Netanyahu never formed a coalition government where he marked the left. It’s inconvenient with his base, his flexible pragmatism, as well as with his further-to-the-right coalition partners. This is why he gave Ehud Barak the post of defense minister; Yair Lapid in finance; Tzipi Livni in Justice; and finally, Benny Gantz in defense. Bibi cannot mark the left corner of his own government. Which is why he is more likely to make a deal with Gantz than with Bennett and Sa’ar.
Here are the things Bibi will not do, no matter how big a victory his party scores come the next election:
He will not impose Israeli sovereignty in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Such a move would cause a huge backlash in Europe and, should the Democrats remain in power, in the US. Israeli trade would suffer as a result, and a good Standard & Poor rating is much more important to him than whether or not the folks in Gush Etzion have to wait longer for their fiber optic internet connection (actually, parts of Gush Etzion already have fiber optic connections, so who knows, and he did come pretty close to imposing sovereignty, but the Abraham Accords were shinier).
He will not change the status quo on the Temple Mount. There’s no upside for him in rattling that cage: his voters aren’t interested (but that’s changing), and his Haredi coalition partners are against it, so why should he? (Though he did quietly start allowing unharassed Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, without making a lot of noise about it).
He will not change the makeup of the Supreme Court. Bibi is a staunch supporter of the judicial powers that be, no matter how upset he appears to be about his own plight in the courts system. He is much more part of the Ashkenazi elites than his voters in the periphery to whom he sells an anti-elite agenda.
If you ask me, based on Friday’s poll results, it’s clear that Netanyahu would ask Benny Gantz, whose Blue & White party stands to get 8 seats if elections were held today, to continue as defense minister in his coalition, and Gantz would have no problem accepting. With all the ramifications regarding Judea and Samaria outposts, biased police treatment of right-wing activists versus Arab rioters, unrestricted Arab construction, restricted Jewish construction, the works.
The amazing thing about this poll is how unbeatable Bibi Netanyahu continues to be, despite his corruption cases (which looks like they’re all falling apart), despite his setback year in the opposition (where he proved to be really good opposition leader). If you are an Israeli voter, you should probably know that no matter how you vote in the next election, the next prime minister is going to be Benjamin Netanyahu. Unless he or someone close to him messes up incredibly.
By the way, according to this poll, Meretz is destined to disappear, and Ra’am may follow it into the puff cloud, too. Meanwhile, the Joint Arab List is getting 7 seats. Remember when the anti-Zionist Arab coalition had 13 seats? So, good things.