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Israel’s New Fab Four Must Unite Now

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Yair Lapid, left, and Ofer Shelah in 2017, when Shelah as well was in Yesh Atid.
Yair Lapid, left, and Ofer Shelah in 2017, when Shelah as well was in Yesh Atid. Credit: Emil Salman
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Benjamin Netanyahu has taken over the debate with his bold moves in the Arab community. Now we’re in the stage of reactions and arguments. (Forget about past insults, this is politics, there’s no room for humanism. Instead it’s who’s the sucker – Arab, Jew or Bedouin? Who believes Netanyahu’s lies?)

The hottest party in the market is that of Gideon Sa’ar, who’s teaching poor Naftali Bennett how it’s done. Even further to the right, Bennett finds himself in a struggle with Bezalel Smotrich.

One way or another, all the libido is on the right. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and left-wing Meretz both have their promised portion of pottage that will probably maintain their limited strength and keep them alive.

The Israelis party of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, whose first step was a crushing blow – welcoming aboard former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn – is now broadcasting signs of confusion and even distress. Ofer Shelah, a former Lapid associate, isn’t picking up speed, though former Accountant General Yaron Zelekha is talking it up in the media; reportedly some polls say he’s the closest to topping the 3.25-percent electoral threshold among parties below that level.

A former senior adviser says Zelekha will be the March 23 election’s surprise. Maybe. I haven’t met any people saying they're thinking about voting for his new party. Maybe I don’t get around enough.

And the Labor Party? Uh, it will have a primary soon. The fact that there are no voters is too negligible to halt the mechanism, which is stronger than anything, even reality.

To sum up, the whole stretch between Likud and the Joint List of Arab parties isn’t looking good. It’s not alert, sharp or attractive. Just look at the number of voters who are disappointed with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan and are landing almost effortlessly in Sa’ar’s patch.

Labor has become the Atarim Square of Israeli politics – a rundown site undergoing a creeping demolition, but it’s sitting, not by chance, on a priceless piece of real estate. True, former Labor voters have reason to be concerned: Netanyahu is hard-to-impossible to beat, the ultra-Orthodox parties will only do better than before, and there’s strong sentiment on the right. Still, plenty of people once voted for the ruling party and are now crying out for a new political home.

Kahol Lavan succeeded – a tie with Netanyahu three times in a row is definitely a success – because it gave people the feeling that it was a ruling alternative. There’s an electorate out there, so now is the time to ponder an appropriate platform.

Yesh Atid has no reason to unite with anyone because Lapid is tired of picking up hitchhikers. Meretz, too, can sit back and rely on its regular clients.

But Huldai, Nissenkorn, Shelah and Zelekha should unite already and create a sense of excitement, one even spurred by passion, not a sad compromise among wallflowers at a dance who will settle for anything with two feet.

Instead of negotiating with people like Gantz, or waiting for the results of Labor’s primary, or waiting for the day the party slates are submitted and then signing a marriage contract resembling a writ of desperation, those four politicians should produce an entity that has character. It would talk clear, eloquent leftism (the best of Meretz) and convey toughness and a desire to fight Netanyahu (the best of Yesh Atid).

This entity could then be enlarged and after the election become a force the size of a ruling party. They simply have to get in there. Now.

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