JERUSALEM, Israel – In just over two months, Israelis will head to the polls for the fourth time in two years. This time significant changes in the political landscape could have a major impact on results.
This latest election cycle began in late December when Israel’s parliament couldn’t pass a budget. Failure to meet the deadline automatically triggered the new election now scheduled for Mar. 23. It also ends the seven-month-long contentious coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and retired chief of staff Benny Gantz.
“The way it looks, it looks like the national camp, the right-wing parties will get more support,” Danny Danon, former Israeli ambassador to the UN told CBN News. “You know, parties like the Labor Party, the Blue and White…I’m not sure we will see them in a few months. But in the right-wing parties, you have a space between those who are for the prime minister and those who are not willing to cooperate with Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Middle East Analyst Joel Rosenberg says the new election landscape poses a major challenge to Netanyahu and the Likud Party because of challenges from the right.
“More and more leaders of these smaller parties are saying they will never serve in a Netanyahu government,” said Rosenberg. He added that Netanyahu has “a huge problem on his hands” if most of the other party leaders refuse to partner with him and he cannot form a coalition.
Gideon Saar is now Netanyahu’s main challenger. Once a Likud party leader and the prime minister’s Cabinet Secretary, he’s moved to form his own party called “New Hope.”
“It is significant because Gidon Saar is from the right,” pollster Mitchell Barak said. “He’s from within the Likud. He’s a real Likud person and he’s someone who did show loyalty to the Likud. And he’s even to the right of Netanyahu.”
“So now, there is a real, right, Likud-type alternative and that’s a chink in the armor of Netanyahu both because he left the party and because he’s a legitimate leader,” Barak explained.
Netanyahu is putting his campaign’s hope on successfully leading Israel out of the COVID pandemic. Israel currently leads the world in vaccinations per capita and Netanyahu seeks to re-open Israel in time for the March election and Passover.
“He knows that the more Israelis that have been vaccinated, the more likely that they consider voting for him, even for the people that don’t like him,” said Barak.
The coronavirus has hit Israel hard.
“There are people that are really, really hurting from these closures, from the economic impact of the coronavirus,” Barak continued. “People are running out of money. Even for basic things like food, for rent, for mortgages. This is a very big issue and Israel has never dealt with an economic crisis of this magnitude, so Israelis are very concerned. It affects everything but they also feel like their elected leadership has abandoned them for personal reasons.”
Other factors Israeli voters will likely consider include the Iranian threat, Netanyahu’s upcoming corruption trial and the potential impact of a Biden administration on issues like the Abraham Accords.
Despite Netanyahu’s challenges, Likud remains Israel’s strongest political party. If Netanyahu can show significant progress against the coronavirus pandemic, expand the Abraham Accords and keep Iran at bay, he could again confound experts who have his political obituary already written.
The fractured political landscape, however, makes predicting this election’s outcome extremely difficult.