Although the news will be several days old by the time you read this, the dissolution of the current Israeli government and call for new elections is only hours old as I write this. We’ll certainly have lots of analysis (and seeming government paralysis) in the days and weeks ahead. Why call early elections? Why pick that specific day? Who thinks they will gain? And on and on and on.
We’ll hear about the draft law. We’ll hear about defense. We’ll hear about secret deals and collusion. We’ll hear about new parties and new leaders. We’ll hear about indictments and new mandates. We’ll hear a whole lot about many issues. And yes, these are all important issues. So what gives?
First off, up until about a month ago, early elections seemed to be a terrific threat used by PM Bibi Netanyahu to keep his coalition partners in line. The polls indicated that many of them stood to lose seats while he would gain seats. And the very real possibility that some of the current coalition partners could be left out of the next government appeared to be a very effective technique.
As recently as a few weeks ago, when we came to a ceasefire agreement with Hamas in Gaza and the coalition seemed about to come apart, Bibi pulled another rabbit out of his hat and convinced the remaining partners to stick with the current government. He clearly wanted to keep things as they were. And the current partners wanted the same. So what happened?
Technically, the government realized that it could not pass a required law in time for a court-imposed deadline. This failure (and the new elections effectively postponing the deadline) led to the government’s dissolution. According to Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beitenu, they pulled their support of the law because the chareidim cut a deal with Bibi to bypass the law. It was an act of conscience. Right.
Let’s start with Yisrael Beitenu. According to knessetjeremy.com (a great resource for polling results and information), they have seen a bump in their polling after they pulled out of the coalition last month. If this holds, pulling out of the current government may have given them a needed boost to gain more seats in the Knesset and thus more leverage to exert more influence and exact more financial support in the next government.
Then there is the other “conscientious objector,” Yesh Atid. Polling has indicated that they stood to become the number-two party in the next election. This would position its leader, MK Yair Lapid, to become either the leader of the opposition, or, as I have written in the past, a potential coalition partner who could help the PM eliminate the chareidi parties from the government (as they did in the prior Knesset). Either of these options would help position him as a future leader whenever Bibi leaves or loses.
So what’s his rush? Well, while I doubt it, it could be a genuine desire to see this legislation pass and be implemented. In this scenario, he’s hoping to either win outright due to the shadow of the PM’s potential indictment, or to do what he did in the prior government — join the coalition and reduce exemptions or the financial rewards tied with them.
But I suspect that some other recent news is more indicative of why Yesh Atid moved this week.
Over the past few months, there has been discussion of the political plans of Gen. (Ret.) Benny Gantz, the former military chief of staff. Viewed as a “clean” outsider with no political history, he has reportedly been recruited by both Labor/Zionist Union and Yesh Atid to join forces. Polling has indicated that his presence on either ticket will greatly increase the amount of seats they get in the next election.
Gantz has apparently collected enough signatures to found his own political party. While not much is known about his political positions, his clean reputation could propel his new party (should they run) to be the second-largest faction in the Knesset, taking away from mostly other center/left parties — basically Labor (losing 14 seats) and Kulanu (losing 5 seats).
Forming a party is easy. It just takes some money and some signatures. Yet ramping up a campaign for a new party, seeking to run new candidates in a national election, is much more difficult. I would imagine that doing so in three months left until our upcoming election would only increase the difficulty. It would probably be much easier to join forces with another party in order to lean on their already existing infrastructure.
That is what I personally think this latest move is all about. I’m guessing that Yesh Atid, faced with the potential to be relegated once again to being neither the leader of the opposition nor the obvious kingmaker, made this move to force Gantz’s hand and pressure him to join forces with them. Polls show that a joint party with Gantz for Yesh Atid could more than double its faction, placing it only slightly behind Likud.
No matter what their motives, the die is cast and we’ll be in election mania for the next few months. Oh, boy.
Shmuel Katz, his wife, Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.