The Three Questions That Will Decide Israel’s Election

To win, it won't be enough for Benny Gantz or Benjamin Netanyahu to emerge as the leader of the largest party

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Benny Gantz at the press conference announcing his linkup with Yair Lapid, Tel Aviv, February 21, 2019.
Benny Gantz at the press conference announcing his linkup with Yair Lapid, Tel Aviv, February 21, 2019.Credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters

The battle lines have been drawn. By Thursday night, the parties handed in their slates to the Central Elections Committee; we now know which parties are running, which have dropped out, which have merged and which candidate is on what spot on every list. The six and a half weeks until April 9 represent the real campaign.

The next prime minister will be either Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz. The linkup between the former military chief’s Hosen L’Yisrael party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid has made their new Kahol Lavan (Blue White) alliance – led by Gantz – a real contender to Likud.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 16Credit: Haaretz

But to win, it won’t be enough for Gantz or Netanyahu to emerge as the leader of the largest party (or second-largest by a very small margin). They will need a bloc of parties with a majority in the new Knesset. Since the Arab parties won’t be joining any coalition government, there’s a distinct possibility that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will have a majority and the result will be deadlock. A national-unity government led by either of the two can’t be ruled out.

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Three questions will decide the result.

Who's a rightist? Netanyahu's right-wing and religious bloc has more potential voters. For Gantz and the center-left bloc to deny Netanyahu a fifth term, he must convince enough “soft” right-wingers who are tired of Netanyahu that Kahol Lavan isn't “tainted” by leftism and even leans slightly rightward.

Netanyahu has been gunning for Gantz for a month now, trying to brand him as “weak left.” Gantz has appointed prominent ex-Likudniks to his ticket and produced online videos of carnage in Gaza to prove his right-wing credentials. The brand that sticks will decide the election.

Who won’t make it through? At least half a dozen parties, on both the right and the left, are hovering around the 3.25-percent electoral threshold. If Yisrael Beiteinu or Kulanu on the right fall under, or Meretz or Balad on the left, the votes for them are lost. And without their seats in the Knesset, the winning bloc could lose its majority, obstructing Netanyahu or Gantz’s path to a coalition.

Will indictments define the race? Very soon, perhaps next week, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to announce corruption indictments, pending a hearing, against Netanyahu. Even though many of the details have already been leaked to the press, the actual publishing of the charges would be a political earthquake that could become a pivotal moment in the campaign.

Will charges of bribery and fraud push some disgusted right-wing voters over to Gantz, or will they rally the members of Netanyahu’s base, convinced that their champion is the victim of a witch hunt?