Can We Stop the Elections? And Five Other Questions Looming Over Israel

Is Bennett going to leave politics? Will Shaked find her place? Will the left finally unite? And most importantly, will any of them be able to convince Israelis to go out and vote? Here's what you need to know about the upcoming Israel election

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The Knesset
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

379 days into its making, the self-named "change government" has come to an end, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced they would move to dissolve their fledgling ruling coalition.

Wednesday's Knesset vote on the legislation to dissolve the parliament will require additional readings. However, the coalition's goal is to see the law passed by the middle of next week, and thus prevent an alternative government led by Netanyahu from forming before Israelis can vote.

As Israel now prepares to go to the polls for the fifth time in nearly three years, several questions hang over the country's rapidly shifting political landscape.

Is there any way to avoid an election?

It is doubtful whether Bennett or Lapid will, can, or want, to take back their dramatic announcement on Monday about dissolving the Knesset and implementing the prime ministerial rotation between them. They both understand that even if it survives, the government will be a lame duck until the next crisis – within weeks – that in any case will lead to its fall. Their speeches yesterday evening demonstrated this decision was final.

On paper, at least, a number of possibilities exist that could turn the tide, stabilize the ruling coalition and prevent elections: The resignation of a number of rebellious MKs, or their standing with the coalition out of a fear for their own political futures could, the formation of an alternative government headed by Netanyahu or a different candidate who is neither Lapid nor Bennett in the present Knesset – instead of elections – or a political deal that would keep opposition MKs outside the Knesset during specific critical votes on the law dissolving the Knesset, so the law would be voted down and frozen for half a year.

What will happen to Bennett?

Will Bennett run again in the coming election? Will he leave politics? Since his appointment as prime minister, Bennett has not managed to leverage his new status in the polls. Yamina, a party with a clear right-wing ideological line, is disintegrating in the Knesset, worn down in public opinion, and at this point is hardly considered an electoral asset. Bennett’s chances of returning as prime minister after the election are not good, and it is not clear if he will want to invest the energy needed in running to serve as a minister or MK on the opposition benches. If Bennett does decide to run, he could well decide to put together a new center-right slate, in cooperation with New Hope or Yisrael Beiteinu.

Will Bennett and Lapid continue their partnership?

Over the past year Bennett and Lapid displayed a rare alliance between party leaders from the two sides of the political divide. A deep friendship has formed between the two. Bennett has continuously made it clear that he would keep his promise for the rotation with Lapid, and last night he handed Lapid the premiership on a silver platter.

Their friendship is sure to be tested as they decide which political path to take next. One of the rumors heard over the past few weeks, as Yamina began to falling apart, is that Bennett will be joining Lapid’s Knesset slate.

Assuming Bennett will decide to run, and not retire, then the more likely assumption is that he will run at the head of a new right-wing party, along with other parties such as New Hope or Yisrael Beiteinu. Such a step could serve the axis created by Bennett and Lapid over the past year: A Bennett-Sa’ar-Lieberman party could take away precious votes from Likud or Religious Zionism, and increase the chances of the “anyone but Bibi” camp, including Lapid, to form the government on the day after the election.

Bennett and Lapid’s campaign for the next election will also be interesting: The two may be political rivals, but have racked up shared achievements. They will surely speak in praise of the polarized government they established, and both may well declare their intentions of forming such a government again in the future.

What will happen to Ayelet Shaked?

Bennett and Lapid’s joint announcement on calling early elections has rocked Ayelet Shaked’s political future. Shaked, Bennett’s longtime ally and party member, has not been shy when it comes to expressing her moral reservations about the present government coalition. On one hand, she flirted with the possibility of running in the next election in a different party. But on the other hand, she worked to strengthen Yamina in the past few weeks and prevent further seepage to the opposition. Her political status as someone who, just a few years ago, was considered as a possible candidate for the premiership, has eroded on the right during this term. MKs have said she would be happy to be part of the Likud slate, but Shaked is a trigger as far as Netanyahu is concerned, and senior Likud members are pressuring him not to guarantee her a place on the slate.

Will Labor and Meretz run together?

Over the past few weeks, just like during the last election campaign, political activists in left wing parties have begun arguing over the best way they should run: Senior Meretz leaders are considering the possibility of running with Labor on a single slate, as they did under Amir Peretz.

Meretz suffered a harsh blow in recent weeks because of lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who is seen as the catalyst to the atmosphere which engulfed the coalition during its final weeks. At the same time, members of Labor have been talking about the option of running jointly with Kahol Lavan (led by Benny Gantz), best known for its left wing-Rabinist line. The latest polls forecast that if Labor runs on its own, it will win a similar number of seats to what it has now (seven sits). In this respect, party chairwoman Merav Michaeli certainly managed to breathe new life into a party that was seen as a relic of what it once was, even by its own voters.

How will moving up the election affect the Arab parties?

The coming election campaign will be an important test for the Arab public’s trust in its leadership in the Knesset. The decision of the United Arab List, headed by Mansour Abbas, to be a part of the government and advance its goals from within the executive branch was a historic move; one that went against the traditional opposition line led by the members of the Joint List. In spite of his efforts, recent polls indicate that Abbas’ party won't gain significant support, with polls showing it might not pass the electoral threshold.

The key question in the next election campaign will be the voter turnout in the Arab community. At the height of its strength, the Joint List numbered 15 MKs.

The lack of enthusiasm clearly reflected in the polls show the dire need of the left wing parties to revive their voters in order to remain relevant and prevent the right-wing bloc from reaching a majority in the Knesset. A desperate need for votes could lead to a blow up before the elections and force parties to run together under two separate slates, with the hope that, eventually, someone wins enough votes to build a stable government.

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