Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israelis sense the inevitability of another Netanyahu Government coming into formation on March 17, but there are very few Israelis who at all enthusiastic about it. Israel is today a country with an unpopular Prime Minister but with no exciting alternative choices on their political shelves. This is a country with a former President, a former Prime Minister, a current Minister or three, and other party and Government officials either in jail or in the process of appealing possible jail sentences. Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for what will be the next political scandal’s to emerge.
The Bayit HaYehudi Party and its leader Naftali Bennett could be the real winner in the election, while Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid could become a one-time political blip, if current trends continue. Lapid did not demonstrate any serious political effectiveness and has disappointed, while Bennett succeeded over the past two years to become a true political force. At the same time, the level of corruption concerning Avigdor Lieberman and the leaders of Yisrael Beitanu, have emerged just in time to besmirch his efforts even further in the election; may dramatically reduce his ability to mount a serious threat to Netanyahu; and maybe even keep him out of the next Government. Within the Likud Party itself it appears that there is merely much internal political jockeying, as Bibi solidifies his friends and supporters’ places in the Party’s list, while marginalizing his opponents.
At the moment, if they can join forces—Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis and political leaders—the charedi may well be big winners in the election, even the power brokers. They have internal leadership issues to resolve within their various factions, but efforts to force their greater participation in the state—jobs, taxes, and military/national service—at best could well be deferred for political favors.
All of this suggests minimal genuine opposition despite the fact that this Netanyahu led Government has not truly rallied the country to its side. There is a sense that Herzog’s direction might be right but that bringing in Livni so fast was not a positive move and showed a lack of political timing. He was in a rush to bring her under the Labor Opposition tent and gave away too much and received too little; not a good sign of his ability to negotiate internally and externally. All the small parties are minor players and some—with the new raised threshold needed to gain seats having been raised to 3.25% of the voters—might even eliminate some of the potential minor players. (While the demise of small meaningless parties is inherently a good move, doing so in a non-systematic manner with true party reform is not as effective as it needs to be.)
Finally, all of this projecting is being seen more than two months out before the voters decide. In Israel polls and projections have been notoriously unreliable and fluid. Inherent in coalition politics is the true difficultly to predict voter behavior. When and whether there will be change remains to be seen, but the race for power here is truly raw, highly corrupting, and hardly uplifting.