Tomorrow Israelis go to the polls for the second election of 2019, in which the two main contenders will be the Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the centrist Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Neither party is likely to have an easy path to forming the 61-seat Knesset majority needed to form a government, a reality that has affected both parties’ campaigns. Haviv Rettig Gur explains how the anomalous political situation has led to something very different from the contest between left-wing and right-wing “blocs” of parties predicted by most analysts, and examines the various possible outcomes:
This is a deeply strange election: a first-of-its-kind redo in a single year; a first-in-a-decade challenge to Likud’s unassailable rule, with [Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist] Yisrael Beytenu party unmoored from the right and demanding a secular unity government [i.e., one that excludes the Orthodox parties]. . . .
[Meanwhile], with neither Netanyahu nor Gantz assured of 61 legislators’ recommendations for the position of prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin, the two leading parties are now in a race to become the largest single faction. Being the biggest party, they believe, will assure them Rivlin’s nomination as prime minister-designate.
And that has meant turning on their own blocs. It is easier to draw a right-wing voter [from the newly formed] Yamina party to Likud through scaremongering about “leftists” than it is to draw a Blue and White voter to within a half-mile of Netanyahu. It is similarly easier to draw a voter from Labor or [the former prime minister Ehud Barak’s newly formed] Democratic Camp to a “secular” campaign by Blue and White than to pull in a far-rightist.
The 22nd Knesset is not likely to agree a second time in a year to a . . . third election. If Gantz offers Liberman sufficiently robust promises of ministries, budgets, and policy influence, Liberman is quite likely to agree to wait it out with him—positioning the Yisrael Beytenu leader as the nation’s kingmaker. . . . In one possible scenario, President Reuven Rivlin might first ask Netanyahu to form a coalition, and Netanyahu might fail to do so before the deadline, in which case Rivlin would give Gantz an opportunity. What then?
Netanyahu’s best hope would be either to negotiate a power-sharing government with Gantz—in which Gantz would be prime minister first. . . . If Netanyahu does not seem willing to join a Gantz government after failing to establish his own, it is safe to assume that the entirety of Gantz’s roughly 42-day negotiating period will consist of one thing and one thing only: convincing Likud to drop Netanyahu, who will have transformed at that point from the party’s greatest electoral asset to the main obstacle preventing it from returning to power, albeit shared power.