Two months before the 25th Knesset elections, Israeli political parties are working to improve their chances at the polls in the country’s fifth general elections in three years.
Their efforts are focused on forging an alliance that would lead to the formation of a stable government, but opinion polls show that the political arena in Israel is severely polarised, causing some politicians to retire from politics altogether.
The polls show that the right-wing bloc led by opposition leader and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the lead. However, it is not enough to allow him to form a stable cabinet without entering into an alliance with others outside his right-wing camp.
Meanwhile, the camp for change that includes political parties in the incumbent government coalition led by Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, and Benny Gantz is working to ensure that it gets more votes at the polls and wards off the threat of Netanyahu’s poaching its members.
This camp suffers also from tacit divisions but not to the point of disengagement. Former prime minister and leader of the Yamina Coalition Naftali Bennett has announced he will exit politics, at least for the next round of elections, while Lapid wants to capitalise on his rising popularity after the recent Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, which Israel views as having successfully deterred the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement.
Gantz has started working with the leader of New Hope Party Gideon Saar to form an alliance in the hope of having a powerful hand in the upcoming elections. He has already succeeded in convincing former Israeli chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot to join him.
This alliance is calling for the formation of a national unity government, and its leaders are determined to eliminate Netanyahu from the political scene so he is never able to return as head of government. It comes at a time when the opinion polls show that Netanyahu could do well in the next elections.
The political map in Israel includes the right-wing camp led by Likud Party leader Netanyahu, the Religious Zionist Party, the Shas Party, United Torah Judaism, and Ayelet Shaked, leader of the Zionist Spirit Party which she formed to replace the Yamina Coalition she earlier formed with Bennett.
The polls show that none of these parties will be unable to win significant numbers of seats in the Knesset.
The opposing camp includes centre-right and left-wing parties like Yesh Atid led by Lapid, the National Camp Coalition consisting of Blue White led by Gantz, Saar’s New Hope Party which Eizenkot recently joined, the Labour and Meretz Parties, and the United Arab List (UAL) led by Mansour Abbas.
The Israel Hayom newspaper has predicted that Netanyahu will be hurt most by the Gantz-Saar-Eizenkot alliance, especially since Eizenkot can attract voters from Netanyahu’s own right-wing bloc.
Shaked, who is open to an alliance with Netanayhu, would be the first victim of this alliance. A recent opinion poll soon after Eizenkot’s move showed that Shaked’s party would not win the four-seat quorum needed for a presence in the Knesset.
With the addition of Eizenkot, the new alliance will also gain at the expense of incumbent Prime Minister Lapid, who was also trying to recruit Eizenkot to his party.
An opinion poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 12 TV station after Eizenkot’s announcement to join Gantz and Saar showed that the new alliance could win 14 seats compared to the 12 it was predicted to win earlier.
Hassan Abdo, an expert on Israeli affairs, said the leaders of the alliance hail from Netanyahu’s Likud, which means it will be able to grab votes from Netanyahu’s side.
The Channel 12 poll shows that Likud would win 34 seats in the elections, the same as in previous predictions. However, the Yesh Atid Party led by Lapid would win 23 seats, one less than in the previous survey.
The poll also showed that Shaked’s Zionist Spirit would fail to achieve the electoral threshold to have a presence in the Knesset. An alliance with Shaked would have been Netanyahu’s easiest pick to enable him to form a government after the next elections.
The poll reveals that despite changes in some indicators for the next elections, both Netanyahu’s camp and the camp for change that includes parties in the incumbent transitional government will have trouble forming a cabinet.
According to predictions, Netanyahu’s bloc will win 59 Knesset seats and the camp for change 55, while the UAL, which the polls predict will win six seats, will remain unaligned with either.
Each bloc needs at least 61 out of the 120 Knesset members to be able to form a new government. Abdo told Al-Ahram Weekly that signs so far indicate that Israel will remain polarised but what unites the parties in the new alliance is the determination to block Netanyahu from making a comeback.
The most likely scenario is that neither the incumbent nor the opposition bloc will be able to form a new government, he said.
While the Israeli political parties are divided and polarised, the Arab parties in Israel are also suffering the same fate.
The Joint Arab List (JAL) led by Ayman Odeh is facing possible rifts that would decimate the Arab bloc in the Knesset. The Tagammu Party, a member of the JAL, is considering running independently in the upcoming elections because it has been angered by Odeh’s policies. This would be the second rift threatening the Arab bloc after the Arab parties split into the UAL and the JAL during the previous elections.
Netanyahu and his bloc reject any alliance with the Arab political parties in a coalition government, but Abbas’ party, which supports the incumbent cabinet, is not averse to joining either camp.
The divided political scene in Israel faces several possible scenarios, most notably repeated rounds of elections or an unstable alliance to form a new government. For Abdo, most governments in Israel have not been stable, making this a key feature of successive Israeli governments.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.