Israel's Centrist Parties Should Unite to Defeat Netanyahu in the Election

A joint slate including the Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid is the best way to get rid of the fearmongering prime minister.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (R) and former justice minister and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, January 14, 2015.
Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (R) and former justice minister and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, January 14, 2015.Credit: AFP
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

There are those who argue that even if the electoral slate known as Zionist Camp somehow manages to form a government after the March 17 election, it won’t have any real significance. They base their argument on the centrist and vague positions that Zionist Camp heads Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) have adopted in the areas of foreign policy and defense, and the gut feeling that what we’ve had up until now is not going to change.

There is a certain logic to these claims. But it’s worth remembering that the last two governments formed and led by Labor, under Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, were the only governments that led a genuine process of change in Israel’s strategic situation. One way or another, Israelis are getting a chance to consider their lives divorced from the eternal rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with its purposelessness and hopelessness. It would be healthy for them to enjoy a few years away from the threats, fearmongering and endless victimhood.

Getting Netanyahu out of office is sufficiently appealing and important. On the level of Realpolitik, the following approach appears to be the only one to bring it about: a fast move to unify the Zionist Camp and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid on one electoral slate. Electoral rules allow such a step until this Thursday, and it would prove the tiebreaker that could decide the election.

From a technical standpoint, it’s a particularly easy thing to perform. At the moment, the polls show the Zionist Camp getting 25 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, with Yesh Atid claiming 10. That could provide for an allocation in which the Zionist Camp receives five slots for every two for Yesh Atid. For every seven slots, for instance, the third and sixth slots could go to Lapid and his party colleagues.

And the whole of such an arrangement could be greater than the sum of its parts. It would not only guarantee that Herzog heads the faction that gets the most seats. The combination could create a momentum that would earn the new joint slate many more than the 35 seats the polls are predicting they would get separately.

Not that every linkup between parties would guarantee additional seats. Former MK Uri Avnery, who has earned the right to speak, recently again called in a Haaretz op-ed (January 14) for an alliance between the Zionist Camp and Meretz.

That’s exactly the kind of merger that would result in a loss of seats, because the left-wing nature of Meretz will certainly repel centrist and soft-core right-wing voters who are suited to Herzog and Livni’s current positions – or which at least make it possible for these voters to consider the idea of voting for them. However, it’s hard to believe that a linkup between the Zionist Camp and Lapid’s Yesh Atid would push voters to parties further to the right.

It’s possible that a few seats would actually be lost to the left, strengthening Meretz – which is an important secondary goal in and of itself, in light of flagging support for the party, pushing it closer to the minimum four seats (below which it would not be represented in the next Knesset).

But those who might desert the Zionist Camp would be offset by wavering voters who are disappointed with Netanyahu. For them, Lapid and his colleague Shay Piron could provide the stamp of approval to vote for Labor.

It’s true that on the ideological level there are differences between the parties, particularly on economic policy. They are not huge disparities, but there are gaps. There is not a lot in common, for example, between the socioeconomic views of Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich and Yesh Atid’s Jacob Perry. But we’re not saying they have to believe exactly the same thing, rather having a joint electoral platform.

After March 17, the joint ticket can function as a loose confederation or even be split into its original components in certain fields.

In any event, no scenario exists that would provide for a coalition headed by Herzog that doesn’t also include Lapid as a senior partner, so why not have them come together before the election?

The prevailing assumption is that if Yesh Atid runs on a joint slate with the Zionist Camp, it will immediately prompt an alliance between Likud and Habayit Hayehudi.

That is another excellent example of a slate that would result in a loss of seats compared to what the parties would gain separately, as has already been demonstrated in the polls. Not every Likudnik will turn out on election day to vote for Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smutrich and Orit Strock. There would be those who would simply stay home, or even cross over and advance the country’s redemption themselves.