Opinion |

Another Election Is a Real Possibility: We Must Prepare for It

Uzi Baram
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews vote in Bnei Brak, Israel, on September 17, 2019.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews vote in Bnei Brak, Israel, on September 17, 2019.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Uzi Baram

Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a decisive blow in the last election. In his efforts to build a narrow right-wing government, he didn’t shy away from using any means to make his rival seem ridiculous. He divided the country into two groups – his supporters, and all the rest, who of course are all leftists. He threatened Arab voters with unconcealed cameras, persuaded Moshe Feiglin to withdraw his party from the race and published false polls on Election Day, after realizing his situation wasn’t good.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 41

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Netanyahu brought about the downfall of his own party. He entered the campaign with 1.4 million voters seemingly in his pocket and ended it with just 1.1 million ballots cast for Likud – a loss of 300,000 votes. As a result, Likud lost the top spot in the Knesset to Kahol Lavan.

But Netanyahu is acting as if the election never took place and there was no collapse. He has tied the rightist bloc (excluding Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu) to the ultra-Orthodox parties and thereby created a united bloc of 55 Knesset seats. Netanyahu doesn’t believe he can form a government, so he’s now investing all his energy in promoting a third election. He believes he has nothing to lose by doing so until he achieves his desired result.

>> Read more: Close ranks and don't be tempted | Haaretz Editorial ■ Netanyahu’s mandate is meaningless, but he will continue campaigning | Analysis

He could promise Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir spots on a joint ticket together with Likud – call it Likud-Right. He would even be willing to suffer a reprimand from President Reuven Rivlin over his being solely responsible for a third election, just as he was responsible for the second one.

Netanyahu’s guiding assumption in promoting a third election is that while there are parties that say they won’t sit with him, those parties are also very afraid of another election. If any of the parties comprising the “blocking majority” against him were to join a Netanyahu-led government, he wouldn’t need another election. From this, we see that the threat of a third election will bring about a real shift in the coalition negotiations.

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Lieberman and Netanyahu are surely reading Raviv Drucker’s op-eds and realizing that they must try anything possible to form a government now and prevent another election. But if all other possibilities have been exhausted, the option of a third election will be on the table – something that now seems Kafkaesque. The chance of another election isn’t making many headlines at the moment, but it exists, so we must prepare for it.

We must immediately form a united left-wing Zionist bloc that will include both Labor and Meretz. That will greatly increase their ability to withstand the threats posed by a new election, such as a loss of votes and the danger of falling below the electoral threshold.

The Arab parties’ Joint List must understand that in the next election, Netanyahu won’t repeat his demand for cameras in the polling stations, nor will he once again make Israeli Arabs the center of his campaign. Instead, he’ll let apathy among the Arab community increase. Thus Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and his colleagues must persuade their voters that “this time, it’s finally possible to oust Netanyahu.”

Kahol Lavan, in my view, has found a suitable leader. The more experience Gantz gains, the more he radiates leadership. Gantz must prepare for another election by positioning his party as a legitimate centrist party and aspiring to form a joint political framework with Lieberman. Lieberman may not agree to give up his political independence; he may prefer a different option. But it’s nevertheless worth trying, because such a move would have significant advantages for both Gantz and Lieberman.

It’s also possible that the situation will get even more complicated, because we mustn’t ignore Netanyahu’s complex legal situation: He is about to face a pre-indictment hearing, and afterward an indictment may hang over his head. It’s impossible to know how Likud Knesset members would act in such a situation. Would they commit mass suicide like the Jews of Masada for the sake of a dubious leader?

And we, the center-left bloc, really ought to abandon our defeatist attitude and look at the situation without fear, even if there’s yet another election, the third in a row. We must prepare for it and aspire to finally win it by knockout.