From the beginning of his campaign effort, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it known he would be steering his own ship when it came to the election strategy. While a team of young aides — including his son Yair — were responsible for running his campaign, Netanyahu was calling the shots.
In the final days of the campaign, the prime minister unleashed a flood of media interviews, social media posts and text messages aimed at Israel’s right-wing voters with a clear message: Vote “only for Likud” and “only for Netanyahu.” As several of the parties on the right appeared to sink close to or below the electoral threshold, that strategy appeared to defy its own logic. It may inadvertently mar Netanyahu’s chances at forming a right wing government, especially if Hayamin Hehadash, led by current ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, fails to make it in.
By cannibalizing from these shrinking rightist parties in hopes of scoring a decisive head-to-head victory against Benny Gantz, Netanyahu was recklessly dismissing the likely possibility that several of them would disappear from the Knesset count — and from his potential government coalition.
Whether, and how seriously, Netanyahu shot himself in the foot by taking support away from his right-wing rivals won’t be clear until the final count is in, including the votes of thousands of young Israel Defense Forces soldiers, whose ballots are counted after those of the general public.
The parties to watch in the hours ahead will be Bennett’s Hayamin Hehadash as well as Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut. These are the two potential Netanyahu coalition partners who, according to the polls, will not make it into the next Knesset.
Both, particularly Bennett, refused to give up hope when the polls were published, believing that support from soldiers would prove to be their salvation.
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Three other right-wing parties hover near the electoral threshold in at least one of the major polls: Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, and the Union of Right-Wing Parties — the alliance that includes the controversial Kahanist Otzma Yehudit.
The loss, should final results bear it out, would be particularly shocking in Bennett’s case, marking the dramatic fall of a party headed by a politician who was once considered a serious future contender for the premiership, and his number two, Shaked, who has been an influential and controversial justice minister.
This entire election owes its existence to Netanyahu. He was the one who decided it was in his interest to send Israelis to the polls in April, instead of waiting for his term to end in November. He had hoped for a decisive victory that would send the message that he had the nation’s full confidence — a message that would help him battle the pending criminal indictments against him. Certainly, this was not the result he was looking for.
Another party to keep an eye on when the final results come in is the Balad-United Arab List alliance, which, according to two of the three exit polls, will not make it in — dealing a potentially lethal blow to any chance of forming a center-left coalition. In this regard, Netanyahu may be pleased after all.