Sarasota attorney Harold Halpern, just back from a trip to Israel, writes about the various strategies being employed by different parties in Israeli to get a leg up in the upcoming elections

In my last column I wrote about the impact of the new government on Israeli policies.

The latest is that 56 Knesset seats for the Right coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and 55 seats for the Blue White coalition headed by Benny Gantz and nine Knesset seats to Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. Sixty-one votes are required to select a prime minister to form the government.

The parties have not engaged in discussion of substantive issues. The last election in April produced no government engaged in the issues. The Blue and White campaign position was that Netanyahu, under criminal investigation, was not fit to continue as prime minister. Netanyahu campaigned on the theme that he kept Israel secure.

The campaigns have been essentially tactical to squeeze out the 61 votes. The most significant of these maneuvers are:

Netanyahu: His strategy is to secure most votes for his party Likud regardless of whether they are taken from the center-left or his own coalition of right parties. He feels that the more seats for Likud, the better his chances to form a government. This explains his attack on Ayelet Shaked, leader of the United Right coalition, with whom there is mutual dislike.

As of today, Netanyahu is negotiating with two minor extreme right parties to withdraw as they have little likelihood of receiving the threshold vote of 3.5%. If they withdraw, their votes will likely go to Likud or other Right parties. This could add four seats to the right.

Netanyahu played up his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu also traveled to Ukraine in effort to secure votes from Russian-speaking Israelis, which normally go to Yisrael Beiteinu party, informally known as the Russian-speaking party.

Netanyahu, in an effort to insure his standing with the Right, approved 350 houses for a new settlement in the West Bank and promised a strong response to renewed Gaza attacks on southern Israel communities.

Netanyahu presided over air attacks on Iranian weapon depots in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. By doing so, not only was he attacking the danger from Iran but also answering Gantz, criticism that he was weak in failing to stop the chronic Gaza attacks on southern Israel.

Blue and White and Yisrael Beiteinu: The parties entered into a vote-sharing agreement coalition that enabled them to add their excess votes together (separately insufficient for a seat), which, when combined, will entitle the party to an additional seat.

Gantz: In response to a press question, Gantz said he would sit in a coalition with Netanyahu if he was first in rotation. Shortly after that he said he didn’t hear the question and advised he would not join in a government with Netanyahu. Overall, the media reports that Gantz did not have a good month.

Lately, Gantz, a retired general, has strongly criticized Netanyahu for failure to take the necessary action to end the chronic Gaza attacks on southern Israel.

Lieberman: Given the projection of seats based on latest polling, neither the Right, led by Likud, or the Center-Left have 61 seats. Lieberman as leader of his party is projected to have nine seats. He would have the power to negotiate with both Right and Center-Left to form a government. His stated preference is to be rid of Netanyahu and the influence of the religious parties.

However, his seeming power to determine the next government is not as certain as it appears. The Right or some of its parties can form a coalition with Center-Left or some of its parties without Lieberman or his party.

Moreover, all these projections are based on polls. The actual vote may result in a different outcome. The most recent poll has a suggestion of a trend. Lieberman’s party is projected to have two fewer seats than a preceding poll, and the Arab United list also dropped a projected seat.

Turnout will be a key element. The Right has turned out in a high percentage, fearful of the opposition agenda. The Israeli Arab turnout has been low. Its projected number of seats may be high. While it will not be a part of the government, its votes for prime minister from Center-Left are vital to its ability to form a government.

Will Israel have a government of Right led by Netanyahu or a government of Center-Left led by Gantz or a coalition of the major parties with its prime minister unknown?

 

Retired Sarasota attorney Harold Halpern is a board member of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.