Poll Suggests Splintered Right Leaves Netanyahu Vulnerable

(Bloomberg) -- The splintering of a key right-wing partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has raised the specter of an election loss for the man who has controlled Israeli politics for the past nine years.

A Sunday night poll showed a center-left-Arab alliance gaining two more seats than Netanyahu’s bickering conservative supporters in the 120-member Knesset. That came a day after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced they were leaving the Jewish Home party, a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s coalition, to form a secular-religious list called The New Right.

“There’s a danger that this party will tear the right-wing bloc into fragments of parties that won’t pass the threshold” to enter the Knesset, Netanyahu told reporters Monday on a visit to Brazil. “I’m aware that the new party endangers many parties, and I’ll check and do everything I can for the right-wing bloc to keep its strength.”

The Knesset last week voted to dissolve and move up elections from next November to April 9. Netanyahu said his hamstrung coalition couldn’t function and he would seek a new mandate from voters, though many analysts speculated he also wants to preempt a potential indictment in several pending corruption cases.

Unity on Left

To be sure, Netanyahu remains the heavy favorite to form the next government. Other polls taken since Bennett and Shaked’s maneuver show the prime minister still defeating all rivals.

But as Netanyahu’s allies are splitting into smaller parties -- some of which might not get enough votes to enter parliament -- his political rivals are urging unity. Talk among the center-left over the past week has focused on how to work together to unseat Netanyahu.

“No party on the center-left is in danger, but on the right there are three parties that may not have enough votes to make the threshold,” said Gideon Rahat, a Hebrew University professor and director of the political reform program at The Israel Democracy Institute.

According to reports in Israeli media, Netanyahu may seek to lower the electoral threshold from the current 4 percent, helping smaller right-wing parties enter parliament -- and, presumably, join his next government.

“They learned nothing from the 1992 elections, when the right wing smashed into slivers of parties and allowed a left-wing government to come to power, paving the way for the Oslo disaster,” Yonatan Ulrich, spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in a text message Monday. He was referring to the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

One unknown is former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, who last week formed a party called Israel Resilience. The party received the second-most votes in two polls published Sunday, even though Gantz has yet to articulate his policies. Both center-left and center-right blocs could seek to court Gantz’s party, depending where he comes down on the issues.

“It’s a complete mess,” Rahat said. “And there is still a chance that some of the parties will make political pacts and run together.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.