Category: Opinion Pieces

Geocartography conducted a poll that was broadcast by Channel 20 on September 11 2016.

Of the following candidates who is the most suited to serve as Prime Minister?

24.4% Benjamin Netanyahu

14.7% Yair Lapid

14.3% None of those listed

6.9% Do not know

6.3% Someone else

5.8% Avigdor Liberman

5.6% Naftali Bennett

4.9% Tzipi Livni

4.1% Moshe Yaalon

3.2% Issac Herzog

2.3% Ehud Barak

2.0% Gilad Erdan

1.9% Yaakov Litzman

1.8% Moshe Kahlon

1.1% Aryeh Deri

0.8% Yoav Galant

Note: Among religious and Haredi voters Netanyahu receives 35.7% and Lapid receives just 2.6%.

Following the 2015 election, between Phase 2 and Phase 3, Netanyahu and his Likud Party signed coalition agreements with each of his original coalition partners – Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ. One of the key clauses set the number of cabinet ministers at 20, which would require an amendment to the new law that was supposed to limit new governments to 18 ministers, and gave Likud 12 of the 20 ministers.

Four of the original 12 Likud ministers are no longer in the cabinet: Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin. First, Begin was forced out of the government to allow Likud’s #2 Gilad Erdan to re-enter the cabinet. Danon resigned from the cabinet to become Israel’s Ambassador to the UN. Shalom resigned due to scandal. Yaalon chose to resign from Knesset instead of accepting a demotion to Foreign Minister after Avigdor Liberman entered the coalition.

Two Likud Ministers who held two portfolios had to give up their main portfolio. Yariv Levin handed the Homeland Security Ministry to Erdan, and Zeev Elkin handed the Immigration and Absorption Ministry to Yisrael Beitenu’s Sofa Landver.

The Foreign Ministry has been left without a Minister for the entire term. Prime Minister Netanyahu kept it open for Yair Lapid, Issac Herzog or Liberman. The argument that Netanyahu is still keeping it open for Lapid or Herzog is no longer working within Likud circles. Supposedly, Speaker Edelstein was offered the Foreign Ministry and rejected it. The three Likud ministers with the most seniority – Erdan, Yisrael Katz and Yuval Steinitz – are all vying for the job.

While Erdan, Katz and Steinitz – ministers in Netanyahu’s last three cabinets – wait for the Foreign Ministry, the rookie Likud ministers are also hoping for a promotion later in the term and would prefer Netanyahu not add more Likud ministers into the mix. If new ministers are added to the government it would decrease the chances a current minister would be promoted.

Likud has ten ministers, not 12, because Netanyahu has been slow to appoint new ministers. This has led to circumstances that forced him to give the Likud spots away to other parties. Litzman took Danon’s spot when the Supreme Court forced Litzman to be promoted from a Deputy Minister to a Minister. Shalom and Yaalon’s spots were given to Yisrael Beitenu when they joined the coalition. Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi was able to take the spot of Kulanu’s Avi Gabai when Moshe Kahlon refused to name a new minister to replace the resigning minister and took Gabai’s Environment portfolio for himself. Netanyahu is still bound by the law of 20 ministers – unless he chooses to change it.

There is pressure from the Likud on Netanyahu to increase the government from 20 to 22 ministers. The coalition agreements require 12 Likud Ministers, so it would be difficult for the coalition partners to object. Four Likud MKs view themselves as candidates for the two spots – Former Minister Begin, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, and Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Avi Dichter. The opposition would love the opportunity for a news-cycle where they can vote against the expansion of the government. Kulanu has the right to a third minister, should they request it, which could mean a cabinet of 23 ministers.

Instead, today, the cabinet will approve a mini-reshuffle. Elkin will get Gabai’s old portfolio, Chaim Katz will get the Labor part of the Economy Ministry, and Kahlon will take the Trade part of the Economy Ministry for himself. Hanegbi will remain a minister without portfolio.


Netanyahu doesn’t want to appoint Erdan, Katz or Steinitz as Foreign Minister. Netanyahu did not win the last three terms in a row by rewarding popular Likud Ministers with top jobs so they could build their résumé. Netanyahu has been careful not to give a Likud #2 a key position since his first #2 Defense Minister Itzick Mordechai contributed to his downfall in the 1999 Elections. Kahlon (2006), Gideon Saar (2009 & 2013) and Erdan (2015) have won the top spot in last four Likud Knesset Primary Elections. None of them received one of the top three or four portfolios during their time in the Likud. Instead Netanyahu has given the top jobs to Likud MKs that have not finished in the Likud top five such as his decision to give Steinitz the Finance Ministry in 2009 and Yaalon the Defense Ministry in 2013 and 2015. It was a factor that also helped install Edelstein, who was going to lose his minister position, instead of Rivlin, for the Speaker position in 2013. Erdan and Katz are very popular within the Likud and giving one of them the Foreign Ministry would create two potential competitors – one in a key government office and the other as an opposition leader who would become a daily thorn in Netanyahu’s side. Steinitz is less popular than Erdan and Katz, and Netanyahu passed over both the last time he gave Steinitz a senior portfolio. It would be difficult to get away with it twice.

Liberman was a key Netanyahu ally in the 1990s and became his first Prime Minister Office Director General. Liberman realized that he could get more out of Netanyahu from outside the Likud. Over the last three terms he has received the Foreign Ministry twice and is now Defense Minister, despite holding just five Knesset seats. Naftali Bennett was Netanyahu’s Chief-of-Staff during the important time he re-branded himself as Opposition Leader following the Second Lebanon War. Bennett, and Ayelet Shaked (Netanyahu’s Chief-of-Bureau) joined the Bayit Yehudi Party and are now both sitting on the Security Cabinet. Kahlon created his own Kulanu Party and finally receive the Finance Ministry that he desired. Previously Saar, and more recently Yaalon, have flirted with the idea of creating their own party in order to get a top portfolio position. For Saar it would be the first time he received a top post. For Yaalon it would be getting his position back.

Netanyahu doesn’t want to expand his cabinet. The opposition will have a field day. He has 20 ministers, he just had a reshuffle, and he still doesn’t have a portfolio to give the newest member Hanegbi. Even if he did increase his cabinet, how would he choose two of the four candidates and get away with it? If he does promote a Deputy Minister or a Knesset Chairman it would require him to reshuffle the backbenchers which he would prefer avoiding.

The Knesset will go on recess at the end of this week. Netanyahu will not need to worry about the Knesset until it reconvenes on October 31st. That is when Netanyahu needs his other 29 Likud MKs to start voting for his bi-annual budget that is designed to ensure the coalition lasts until at least late 2018/early 2019. Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beitenu are loyal coalition partners who are all ready for this government’s biggest test. With the current infighting in his own party – it is Netanyahu who needs to worry if his house is in order.

The silver lining for the Prime Minister is that the Likud is leading the polls. The current KnessetJeremy Polling Average has Likud with 25.0 seats and Yesh Atid in second with 19.8 seats. The Zionist Union led by Opposition Leader Issac Herzog has dropped to fifth place, and the numbers of seats have been cut in half from 24 seats to 12 seats. The current coalition averages 68.5 seats to the opposition’s 51.5 seats.


If Netanyahu, who is a master politician, is able to survive the cabinet reshuffle that wasn’t, then he will push off elections until 2019.

Of course, even if he does, in Israel – anything can happen.

KnessetJeremy is back from vacation. I want to thank my loyal readers who reached out to express their frustration over the break. It felt good to be missed. It has been five years since I took a real vacation and it was well worth it.

There are five polls that came out during my break and I will post them in chronological order after this post. I hope to also put out a “Weekend Perspective” piece for this weekend.

Below is the updated “Knesset Jeremy Polling Average” which has also been updated on the site. The significant change of the month is the Joint List is now in third place and Zionist Union has dropped to fourth.


KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls

Current update: July 19 2016

Party KnessetJeremy Polling Average (June/July) Change since previous KJPA (April/May) KJPA (April/May) All Polls since Elections 2015 Election
Likud 26.3 -0.4 26.7 26.7 30
Yesh Atid 19.7 -0.3 20 19 11
Joint List 13 0.2 12.8 12.8 13
Zionist Union 12.7 -0.1 12.8 15.1 24
Bayit Yehudi 12 0.7 11.3 11.5 8
Yisrael Beitenu 9 0 9 8.5 6
UTJ 7.7 -0.3 8 7.2 6
Shas 7 1.3 5.7 6.5 7
Kulanu 6.7 -0.1 6.8 6.6 10
Meretz 6 -0.8 6.8 6 5
Right-Religious 68.7 1.2 67.5 67.1 67
Center-Left-Arab 51.3 -1.2 52.5 52.9 53
Party 22 Poll Avg 22 Poll Placing Avg 2015 Election 2015 Placing Up/Down
Likud 26.7 1st 30 1st 0
Yesh Atid 19 2nd 11 4th 2
Zionist Union 15.1 3rd 24 2nd -1
Joint List 12.8 4th 13 3rd -1
Bayit Yehudi 11.5 5th 8 6th 1
Yisrael Beitenu 8.5 6th 6 8th 2
UTJ 7.2 7th 6 9th 2
Kulanu 6.6 8th 10 5th -3
Shas 6.5 9th 7 7th -2
Meretz 6 10th 5 10th 0
Right-Religious 67.1 n/a 67 n/a n/a
Center-Left-Arab 52.9 n/a 53 n/a n/a


The KnessetJeremy Polling Average tracks the most recent polling numbers. This page is updated as new polls are added to the site and the KnessetJeremy poll database.

Currently there have been 22 opinion polls released to the public since the election. The “KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls” is currently averaging the three most recent polls conducted in June and July. The previous update averaged the six polls conducted in May. In April no opinion polls were released to the public.

After winning four terms, the last three straight, the question of who will replace Netanyahu has become a routine conversation topic in the corridors of power. I disagree, as I always have, with those who feel that Netanyahu’s demise is imminent. As long as Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc is leading in the polls – he is safe. However, assuming Netanyahu is not a vampire or Shimon Peres, someone will eventually need to replace him, and it is worthwhile to explore the question of who that might be.

It’s a loaded question. I’ve found that a great majority of the people who are discussing Netanyahu’s imminent demise have actually been consistently saying the very same thing, every few months or so, since he returned to the Prime Minister’s residence in 2009, resembling the boy who cried wolf. Many of Netanyahu’s supporters will tell you that it is a pointless conversation topic because he is capable of leading Israel for another ten years, which is also unlikely. Based on the current bloc situation Netanyahu will win his fifth term and his successor will have to keep waiting. Of course in Israeli politics just about anything unpredictable can happen.

I have created a formula for predicting Netanyahu’s successor, the next elected Prime Minister of Israel. The timeline is, of course, less predictable. To qualify for the current list of Netanyahu’s potential successors a candidate must meet one of the four criteria below. As we get closer to the next election the deadlines will eliminate criteria 3 and 4, leaving us with the first two.


1) A current non-Haredi, non-Arab leader of a party with the potential of winning double-digit seats (10 or more) in Phase 1 of the next election.

2) A party leader that is capable of winning both Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the election process.

3) A current candidate for the leadership of a party that will meet criteria 1 on Election Day.

4) A future candidate, an outsider or current politician, who could possibly be a party leader of a current or new party that will meet criteria 1 on Election Day.


We will start with a process of elimination that begins with examining the experienced veterans of Knesset and proving why none of them meet the criteria to qualify as a serious candidate to replace Netanyahu.

On May 29, 1996, a little over 20 years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to his first term when he defeated Shimon Peres in a direct election by less than 1% (29,457) of the vote. Since then Netanyahu has spent over ten years as Prime Minister.

15 of the 120 MKs remain from Netanyahu’s first term. You can divide them into two groups. The first group remembers a pre-Netanyahu-led Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, former Science Minister Begin (Likud), former Justice Minister Hanegbi (Likud), Appropriations Committee Chairman Gafni (UTJ) and former Defense Minister Peretz (Zionist Union) were all elected in 1988. Aryeh Deri (Shas), who is currently in his third stint as Interior Minister, was first appointed as Interior Minister in 1988 and entered the Knesset in 1992.

The second group entered Knesset during Netanyahu’s first term and lived through his first electoral loss in 1999. Deputy Speaker Vaknin (Shas), Religious Services Minister Azulai (Shas), Deputy Finance Minister Cohen (Shas), Speaker Edelstein (Likud), Deputy Education Minister Parush (UTJ), Immigration & Absorption Minister Landver (Yisrael Beitenu), former Minister Cabel (Zionist Union), Law, Justice and Constitution Committee Chairman Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) and Transportation Minister Katz (Likud).

If you have ever spoken to any of the 14 you would know they have plenty to say about the 15th member from back in the “old days”. The difference between the two groups is that everyone in the former group has taken at least one break from the Knesset, so they also have an outsider’s perspective, which might be why most of them are not interested in running for Prime Minister. Most of the latter group’s members have remained in Knesset consistently and belong to sectorial parties. I’m bringing this up because endorsements, from both the first group and the second group, will be key as a veteran authority who has been around during the Netanyahu years and has also experienced how other Prime Ministers operated. The media play of Former Prime Minister Barak’s remarks at the Herzliya Conference, even though he has no plans to lead a party, illustrate the point.

Of the 14, the seven Haredi MKs Gafni, Deri, Vaknin, Azulai, Cohen and Parush will never run for Prime Minister. You can disqualify another five MKs with Begin, Hanegbi, Landver, Slomiansky and Edelstein, who have not voiced any interest in running for party leadership. That leaves Amir Peretz and Yisrael Katz.

Peretz has expressed interest in running for the Labor Party leadership. A recent poll had him in fourth place in the primaries, and this is for the leadership of a party that has dropped in the polls significantly in recent months. He is a former Defense Minister and Labor Party leader and that is good enough to rank Peretz in the top 20, but he is not among the top 5 or top 10 candidates for Prime Minister.

Katz makes the most compelling case. He is the veteran of the three current ministers who served as a minister in Netanyahu’s second, third, and fourth cabinets (Erdan and Steinitz are the others). Katz, #4 in Likud behind Netanyahu, Erdan, and Speaker Edelstein, has been the only one to stay in his ministry for all three terms, and he has become a very popular Transportation Minister. Katz is the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister because he steps in when Netanyahu is overseas. The above reasoning would put him in many analysts’ top five choices. I chose to keep him out because he is not likely to win the Likud leadership and has zero appeal outside his party. I think he is in the #6 position, just one scandal away from the top five. Despite his veteran status, as his recent Herzliya Conference speech indicated, he is still not a seasoned enough statesman or policy maker to lead a major Israeli party. However, he will still be a serious contender.


Let’s get to the media’s favorite past time – talking about the potential candidates. The four main names that are thrown around to lead a potential new party are former Likud #2 Gideon Saar, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, and two former IDF Chiefs of Staff (COS) Gaby Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz. Other names that are used for decoration for the potential party are another former Likud #2 Silvan Shalom, former Kulanu Minister Avi Gabay, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, MK Orly Levy, former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and former Education Minister Shai Piron.

I view this potential party as impractical because even if it could get everyone on one ticket and met criteria #1 – it would be impossible to meet criteria #2 without the list splitting. It is more likely that we have multiple new lists with some of the above personalities choosing to sit it out.

I actually believe Yaalon’s new party might have been created just so that he could get the Defense Ministry, similar to Moshe Kahlon’s party that was created so that he could get the Finance Ministry. Kahlon learned before Saar and Erdan that Netanyahu would not give a Likud #2 a good portfolio. Netanyahu has not given the Likud #2 a senior portfolio since he fired his Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai in 1999. I think Saar, Ashkenazi, and Galant would all join a Netanyahu government as Defense Minister if their party failed to form a coalition.

Last Thursday I was at the Herzliya Conference where I watched Moshe Yaalon announce he will run for Prime Minister in the next election. While all of the reporters were busying polishing up their Yaalon stories, I was among the only people to walk over to the side room to hear Tzipi Livni indirectly criticize Yaalon for not going far enough in his views on the Palestinians. Livni called for other parties and outside figures to join the Zionist Union so that the election will be a choice between two large camps instead of splitting the votes even further. After Livni’s speech it was revealed that Lapid’s former #2 Piron formed a new movement called Pnima with Ashkenazi and Gantz.

Despite what the current news cycle might be telling you – the truth is that you won’t have a party of five former COS in Barak, Mofaz, Yaalon, Ashkenazi and Gantz on the same list. We are talking about way too many egos for one party. Barak fired Ashkenazi. Mofaz fired Yaalon. Ashkenazi and Yaalon are like oil and water on many national security issues. Why would Barak, a former Prime Minister, agree to come back if he isn’t the leader of a party, especially when he is doing so well on the outside? The decision to leak the formation of Pnima was a direct result of Ashkenazi’s desire to remind everyone that he doesn’t think Yaalon is the answer. Mofaz has no political capital- under his watch Kadima dropped from 28 to 2 seats in 2013. It is more likely that we see each of the former COS fight each other for the Mr. Security title instead of uniting to take on Netanyahu. We are most likely looking at the battle for Defense Minister, not the battle for Prime Minister.

If you add a Yaalon Party, an Ashkenazi-Gantz Party, and a Saar Party, to the already crowded center bloc of parties led by Lapid, Kahlon, Livni and Herzog, it is a recipe for disaster for their bloc. The scenario polls have shown that there is no combination to break the Netanyahu-Bennett-Liberman-Deri-Litzman bloc in a significant manner that would change the political map in a way where Netanyahu would not be the leading candidate for Prime Minister. I concede that if the personalities do find a way to work together as one ticket that they have a great shot at being the largest list, but that alone isn’t enough. Ask Tzipi Livni, who won more seats than Netanyahu in 2009, how that worked for her.

Quick reality check for those that think there is a good shot of a joint ticket. Yaalon has reportedly told everyone that he refuses to be a #2. Supposedly, Gantz is willing to concede to his predecessor and friend Ashkenazi, but not to anyone else. Gantz certainly won’t accept a #3 position. Saar was sick of being Netanyahu’s #2 and is not expected to return as someone else’s #2.

Before moving on, I’m going to emphasize why I’m not a believer in the success of this new scenario party because a lot of people are going to have a tough time with the fact that the leader of this magical list will not appear in my top five. The biggest issue here is that the number of portfolios that need to be distributed to make a party like this work internally would prevent it from being able to offer anything substantial to other parties in order to secure enough Phase 2 nominations at the President’s Residence or sign the coalition agreements required to pass the Phase 3 Knesset vote. This party will be able to meet criteria #1, but it cannot meet criteria #2, and is therefore disqualified from our formula.

Most elections include at least one new party choice, so there likely will be an outsider candidate. I do have Saar in my top 5, but as a candidate that runs in the Likud Primary, not leading a scenario list. If Saar doesn’t run and/or Kahlon decides to give his party to someone else instead of merging with the Likud, then the top five could include someone like Ashkenazi or Galant, both of whom I’m currently ranking outside of the top five but within the top ten.

Remember the Center Party of Netanyahu’s first former Likud #2 and Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai, former IDF COS Amnon Shahak, former liberal Likud Minister Dan Meridor and Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo started as the anti-Netanyahu camp’s great hope but the party finished with six seats as the many egos of the party caused internal damage that could not be repaired. The opposing camp knows how to do opposition research and find the correct way to help the personalities on the other side tear each other apart.


There are ten lists currently represented in the Knesset. To be Prime Minister you need to actively run for it or at least express a desire to run for it. Five of the ten lists have removed themselves from the equation. Odeh, Deri, Litzman, Gal-On, and Kahlon lead parties – The Joint Arab List, Shas, UTJ, Meretz, and Kulanu – that are not meant to run for the leadership of the country.

The Likud was formed in 1973 as a collection of parties looking to replace the establishment that had built the country. They succeeded in 1977. The Zionist Union is a recycled version of the old establishment Labor Party which views itself as the alternative to the Likud. Herzog did finish second in the last election.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid won 19 seats in 2013 and jumped to 30 seats in post-election polling. Lapid led the largest party into the Knesset Elections, when Likud had just 18 seats. The Knesset Jeremy Polling Average has Lapid as the current #2 and alternative to the Netanyahu government on paper.

Although Liberman and Bennett lead what are considered by many to be satellite parties on the right of Likud, it is no secret that both view themselves as Prime Minister material. It remains to be seen if they pursue that with their own party or if they seek to create their own alliance of parties and individuals, or perhaps participate in a merger of parties that would crown one of them leader.

The Zionist Union won 24 seats in the last election. An average of the 20 polls since the election have Herzog’s party at 15.5 seats and the list is down to 13.1 in the average of the seven polls conducted over the last two months, hitting a low of 8 seats in a poll conducted a few weeks ago. The future of Livni’s Party is in question. Livni’s former #2, Peretz, switched alliances within the Faction to Labor, and Livni’s current #2 is her former Kadima colleague Yoel Hasson. Hasson, who knew when to jump ship last time around, has been telling his colleagues that the Zionist Union atmosphere has become very similar to the atmosphere in Kadima before its collapse.

The future of the ZU is uncertain at best. Herzog is no longer polling in the top two spots required to go on to the second round of voting for the Labor Party leadership. The leading candidate Shelly Yacimovich has not even decided if she wants to run again for the party leadership or perhaps run for the leadership of the Israeli Histadrut Worker’s Union. It says a lot when the leading candidate isn’t sure if she wants the job over something on the outside. Ashkenazi and Gantz’s decision not to join the Labor Party, and Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai’s hesitation, speaks volumes about how leading figures in the center-left bloc view the future of the Zionist Union. With the country slowing moving to the right it has become clear to many people that the future of the center bloc is either Yesh Atid or creating a new political framework to the right of the Zionist Union. With the ZU trending down, I am disqualifying the leader and all of the potential Labor leadership candidates from the top 5 at this time.


We have disqualified a lot of current, past, and future politicians from replacing Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Let’s start building our list of who the top 5 are based on the formula and criteria we have been discussing.

  1. Gilad Erdan. Likud’s current #2.

Whoever replaces Netanyahu as the leader of Likud will be a leading candidate to serve as Israel’s next Prime Minister. Erdan entered the Knesset as part of the Likud class of 2003 that produced the previous Likud #2s Gideon Saar and Moshe Kahlon. Erdan’s strategy of playing it safe, not messing up, waiting it out, and outlasting other rivals, has helped him reach this point. To win the Likud leadership you need to win a Likud Primary, and Erdan has proven time and time again that he knows how to be competitive in internal Likud elections.

Of the current MKs Erdan seems to be the best positioned to be Likud’s next leader. Speaker Edelstein is more likely to wait for a run at President over a bitter leadership primary. Hanegbi and Begin, the last MKs standing from Netanyahu’s first cabinet, are both considered to be moderates and have less support among the rank-and-file activists than they used to. Aside from Erdan, Yisrael Katz and Steinitz are the only two current ministers to have served in Netanyahu’s last three cabinets. Steinitz was #9 on the 2009 Likud list but after a term as Finance Minister dropped to #16 for 2013 before improving to #13 for the 2015 Election. It is difficult to see Steinitz’s path to Likud’s leadership. Katz is a more compelling case as we explored earlier, but I still rank Erdan above him. If there is no outsider candidate in the Likud primary Katz would most likely meet Erdan in the second round.

  1. Gideon Saar. The outsider Likud candidate

If Saar does decide to run, and he has many reasons why he might prefer to remain out of politics, he will be the leading outsider candidate. I think it is more likely that Saar runs in the Likud as an outsider candidate. Other Likud outsider candidates such as UN Ambassador Danny Danon or perhaps Moshe Yaalon could be interesting, but Saar has a much more compelling case. Saar is not just popular in the Likud. He enjoys popularity with many sectors, from Haredim and national religious to Arabs and the LGBTQ community. He is the type of guy who has built up enough relationships to foreseeably check off both criteria 1 and 2 on our list.

Saar is the only MK to win two consecutive primaries for the top MK slot in the party. The future Likud leadership matchup of the past #2 and the current #2 is the type of matchup that was popular gossip around the 2013 election and it still seems to be the plausible round two matchup, assuming Saar does run within the Likud.

Danon has been elected to the Likud’s top 10 in the last two primaries and will put up double-digit numbers if he does decide to run. There is no room for two outsider candidates in a two-round primary election so Danon won’t advance if Saar is running. Yaalon is reportedly considering running in a different party, but for now remains a card-carrying Likud member. Yaalon was #8 on the Likud lists in 2009 and 2013, and after a term as Defense Minister improved to #7 in 2015. Reading the internal political map it is unlikely that Yaalon would defeat Saar as the outsider candidate in Likud. Danon would probably receive more votes than Yaalon in an internal Likud primary that is expected to have at least half a dozen candidates.

  1. Yair Lapid – The non-right-wing alternative

Yesh Atid has returned to 19 seats if you average the 20 public polls conducted since the election. If you look at the seven May and June polls the average is slightly higher – at 19.9 seats. That number has been increasing slowly and steadily. Yesh Atid received a 19.8 average in the five March and April polls. Lapid can improve his numbers instantly if he can snag Ashkenazi, Gantz or perhaps steal Galant from Kulanu to run as his #2 and Defense Minister candidate. Another option is to try to convince Kahlon to merge with Yesh Atid instead of the Likud in return for the #2 spot. It is a lot more likely Kulanu merges into Likud. If former Health Minister and former Meretz Herzliya Mayor Yael German remains Yesh Atid’s #2, Lapid will have a real problem because she would most likely be the least electable of the top lists’ #2s and the furthest to the left.

It will depend a lot on the Phase 1 breakdown, and it will be challenging, but not impossible, for Lapid to pass Phase 2 without the Haredi parties, but he would probably need Bennett and Liberman to do it. As crazy as that scenario might sound to you it is important to understand that the path forward for the Zionist Union and the other non-right-wing alternatives are even more difficult. None of the Zionist Union or scenario party candidates have a shot at Bennett or Liberman, and a Netanyahu-led Likud Party would try to create a stalemate to force a re-election. Yesh Atid has no primaries, central committee, or ego issues and can play Phases 2 and 3 a lot easier.

  1. Avigdor Liberman – Defense Minister & 2-Term Foreign Minister

The saying goes that you can’t be a serious candidate for Prime Minister unless you have held office in the Defense, Foreign or Finance Ministries. Over the last thirty years, only four people have held at least two of the three top portfolios: Silvan Shalom, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Liberman, who is running a party of five MKs is sitting in the top ministry and has become a serious contender for Prime Minister – assuming he can prove himself in the position.

We have moved from more of a party to a personality type system but you still need a party to run in. What platform would Liberman use to accomplish it? Well, it is probably safe to say it won’t be Yisrael Beitenu. We are likely talking about a new brand or package. As long as the right-religious bloc has 61 or more seats it is possible for Liberman to become Prime Minister if his list receives more within the bloc than Likud. Liberman has the ability to go with either Yesh Atid or Shas-UTJ as coalition partners. Lapid could justify joining with Liberman if the right-religious bloc has 61 without him.

  1. Naftali Bennett – The Leader of Israel’s Right

When Netanyahu and Liberman had their joint press conference welcoming the regional initiative it left the right-wing stage completely empty. Liberman is making the transformation from the leader of a right-wing opposition party to a statesman with eyes back on the grand prize. Netanyahu needs to prove to the international community that he is the same guy who was willing to give Herzog the Foreign Ministry. This transforms Bennett, who promised to prevent the withdrawal of land as long as he is in the government, into the leader of Israel’s right. Bennett is racking up right-wing points at home as Netanyahu, Liberman and Kahlon are all busy trying to prove that they are not right-wing abroad. Bennett is free to say he is the true right when everyone else is too afraid to do so or fight him for it.

Netanyahu has led Likud into six general elections, and it was his sixth election in which he won 30 seats – the most he has ever won – achieved by convincing Bayit Yehudi voters to move to Likud to prevent a Herzog-led government. Netanyahu’s recent statements are making it very difficult for Likud to steal right-wing votes again from Bayit Yehudi. Bennett was polling at 20 seats before Netanyahu moved to the right during the general election. As recently as March 28th Bennett told Yediot Achronot, “Today we are the only party that clearly says this country won’t give up a centimeter of land. Today we have eight seats, I think we will reach 30 seats and we will lead a clear policy.” Somebody who is talking about reaching 30 seats is not running to be a junior coalition partner.

As long as the right-religious bloc has at least 61 seats, Bennett just needs to lead the list that does the best in the bloc to lead the country. For now, with just eight seats, he is far off from accomplishing that goal.


In conclusion, Netanyahu’s five potential successors are the top two candidates to lead the Likud (Gilad Erdan and Gideon Saar), the non-right-candidate (Yair Lapid), and the two candidates that are trying to win the right from outside of the Likud (Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett). It could change tomorrow, but if you look at the current polling data including the various scenario polls, those are the top five names for today.

KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls:

Most people outside of the security establishment heard the name Yair Golan for the first time this week. As the Deputy Chief of Staff (COS) of the Israel Defense Forces he is the #2 soldier in Israel.

In late 2014 he launched an unexpected candidacy for the IDF COS position while he was running for the Deputy COS position. He lost the COS job, but he did win the Deputy position. Like many #2s before him, including his predecessor in the Deputy spot, current COS Eizenkot, he is unknown to many in the public for now as he goes through the grooming process for higher office. He is expected to be one of the leading candidates to replace Eizenkot when his term ends.

Let’s get political for a minute. Ten of the last seventeen Deputies dating back to 1982 were promoted to the position of COS. Two former COS became Prime Minister; five became Defense Ministers (DM), eight served as ministers and nine as MKs. Many of the seven deputies who did not reach COS had distinguished political careers afterwards as well.

What is clear is that, whether Golan planned it or not, he entered the political spotlight earlier than he probably desired. It really doesn’t matter where you stand on Golan’s statements. It was the current politicians who colored his statements with political colors. Golan is now going to be in the same basket of defense officials the center-left likes, and the right dislikes, such as Ashkenazi and Gantz. The difference is that he is still in uniform and the others are not. Golan might not have asked for it but there will be people who will look back a decade from now and decide that this was the start of his political career.


Everyone in the security establishment was expecting the battle for the 21st IDF COS to take place between the two people to hold the Deputy position under the 20th IDF COS Benny Gantz – Deputy COS Yair Naveh (2010-2013) and Deputy COS Gadi Eizenkot (2013-2014). Rafael Eitan was the last non-Deputy COS to become COS in 1978, at a time when the deputy position was temporarily vacant. It was a surprise to many when Yair Golan’s name came up as a third candidate for the position.

The previous time around Netanyahu tried to appoint non-Deputy-COS Yoav Galant, but he was forced to walk it back due to legal troubles that arose for Galant after the appointment was announced.  This time, another non-Deputy-COS, Golan, who was in the process of securing the Deputy position away from Sami Tugerman, was suddenly under consideration to leapfrog over Eizenkot.

Eizenkot was the leading candidate and Yaalon’s preference. He was the former military secretary to PMs Barak and Sharon, had great relationships with the international community, and was educated in the US Army War College. At the time Eizenkot was the third oldest Major General and had the support of many Major Generals.

Naveh, who was the older and more experienced candidate, was an intriguing alternative. The national-religious Major General of Central Command that had carried out the disengagement in 2005 of four settlements around the Jenin area. Netanyahu designated Naveh as the stopgap COS during Galant-gate before it was decided that Gantz would replace Ashkenazi. Golan worked very well under Naveh when Golan was the Judea and Samaria Division head, and the thought process was that it would be a successful COS-Deputy combo.

Just 12 people, over the course of 15 years, from 1999-2014 held the top three defense positions (DM, COS and Deputy COS) in the country. Two of them, Eisenkot and Naveh, were running for the 21st COS. Defense Minister Yaalon held consultations with the other nine as part of his selection process. Yaalon was actually the only person to hold all three positions during that period: 16th DM (2013-present), 17th COS (2002–05), Deputy COS (1999-2002).

Yaalon spoke with: Shaul Mofaz 14th DM (2002-2006), 16th COS (1998–2002), Ehud Barak 12th DM (1999-2001/2007-2013), Gabi Ashkenazi 19th COS (2007-2011), Deputy COS (2002-2004), Dan Halutz 18th COS (2005-2007), Deputy COS (2004-2005), Benny Gantz 20th COS (2011–2015), Deputy COS (2009-2010), Binyamin Ben-Eliezer 13th DM (2001-2002), Amir Peretz 15th DM (2006-2007), Dan Harel Deputy COS (2007-2009) and at the time the Defense Ministry’s Director-General, and Moshe Kaplinsky Deputy COS (2005–07).

Following Yaalon’s consultations and Netanyahu candidate interviews the joint decision was made to let Yaalon have his man Eisenkot, Golan would stay on as his #2, and Naveh would stay retired. Eisenkot has worked well with Golan as his Deputy. Yaalon has also been very pleased with the pair. Netanyahu, who once considered Golan for COS, seems to have a change of heart.


Reports leaking of clashing between Netanyahu and Yaalon over Golan’s statements could lead to problems for Golan in the future. Yaalon and Eisenkot are not going to listen to right-wingers who tell them to fire Golan. However, if Netanyahu and Yaalon are sitting in the same positions when it is time to appoint the next COS, it is possible that Netanyahu will not allow Yaalon to have his man. If the center-left is in power, well, they might have just found their man.

Will the relationship between the Prime Minister and Defense Minister suffer because of statements made by the IDF’s #2 soldier? Perhaps the center-left are too quick to embrace Golan? How does all this change the race between the four current candidates (Tugerman, Alon, Kochavi and Eshel) to replace Golan as Deputy next year? There are many questions ahead.

The curious case of Yair Golan has just begun.

Passover is over. The Knesset will open its eleven-week summer session on May 23. The Government will look different after the holiday. Expect changes to take place over the next three weeks that will include a cabinet reshuffle and perhaps a government shakeup.

The main goal is to tighten the flimsy coalition by redistributing jobs within the ruling party. Expanding the coalition is a secondary goal. It is not as pressing of a need but would be extremely helpful ahead of the 2017-2018 biannual state budget, which, if passed, could push off elections to early 2019. The latter goal can wait until the start of the winter session, while the former must be dealt with before May 23.


Netanyahu won Phase 1 of the 2015 general election with 30 seats. He went on to receive the nomination of five parties totaling 67 MKs to win Phase 2. Netanyahu secured a narrow Phase 3 victory of 61 votes by signing coalition agreements with Kahlon, Bennett, Deri and Litzman. The coalition government’s difficulties have come mostly from Netanyahu’s 30 Likud MKs rather than the 31 MKs of his partners.

The coalition agreement, signed by each coalition party in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, states Netanyahu’s fourth government is to have 20 ministers with 12 of those ministers coming from the Likud. Today there are 19 ministers, and 10 of them are from the Likud. Many Likud members are looking for a promotion.

About a year ago, on May 14, a government of 20 ministers, including 12 from the Likud, was approved in the Knesset by a narrow 61-59 margin. The government has changed a lot since then. That cabinet included Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon, and Minister without portfolio Benny Begin and did not include Likud’s #2 Gilad Erdan. Today, Erdan is a senior minister, Begin is a rank-and-file MK, Danon is in the UN, and Shalom is sitting at home.


Before the formation of the government I predicted that unlike the previous coalition it would be the disgruntled Likud MKs unhappy with their appointments, not the MKs from the coalition partners, who would cause the most issues for this coalition.

We have become accustomed to seeing slim margins in the crucial votes of the 20th Knesset, and that has even led to the coalition losing about a dozen votes. It has been the Likud MKs who have caused the most trouble by boycotting votes or simply forgetting to show up. At the beginning of the term it was Gilad Erdan before his reappointment to the cabinet. By the end of the term it was MKs Amsalam and Negosa. Hazan and Kara are among the other Likud MKs rebelling during the past year. Netanyahu can look only to his own party for losing votes on the Knesset floor.

In profiling the 17 Likud minister candidates for the 12 open slots, I predicted that the way Netanyahu treated the five disappointed candidates would be crucial to his own long-term survival.  Now he has a chance to repair at least some of the damage.

It starts with Tzachi Hanegbi, who is expected to be appointed the 20th minister of the government this month. Hanegbi, who first entered the Knesset together with Netanyahu in 1988, was a Justice Minister in Netanyahu’s first cabinet in the late 1990s. Hanegbi has held six different ministry portfolios over the years and decided to run for the Foreign Ministry post at the start of the term. At the time, Hanegbi was the outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister and Deputy Health Minister. Netanyahu informed Hanegbi that he would not receive the Foreign Ministry or any other ministry, despite the Likud’s growth from 18 to 30 seats and five ministers to twelve. Instead, Hanegbi was named the Knesset Defense & Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and Coalition Chairman (Chief Whip). He was told that he would be the next Likud MK in line to enter the cabinet and would enter a rotation agreement with Minister Akunis if no vacancies occurred. Following the Hanegbi appointment there will a reshuffle in the cabinet and among the key Knesset committee chairs and posts.

Netanyahu is looking forward to appointing someone who will be able to maneuver enthusiastically the coalition after a difficult first year. Although the coalition only lost about a dozen votes, the bigger issue is the government has pushed off the vote on dozens of bills due to fear they would be defeated. Backbencher MKs will tell you that the previous coalition chairmen of the last two terms – Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin, who were both promoted to minister portfolios – were more successful in “whipping the votes” than 9-term veteran Hanegbi. One of the rookie Likud MKs is expected to receive the important job of Coalition Chairman as part of the reshuffle. There are two main candidates to replace Hanegbi as the Knesset Defense & Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman.

Benny Begin, another member of the 1988 Likud class, was appointed one of the twelve Likud ministers at the start of the term. When Likud #2 Erdan decided he would accept Netanyahu’s final offer it was Begin who was asked to resign. Erdan also replaced Begin in the Security Cabinet. Netanyahu thanked Begin for his 11-day service in the cabinet and said he would try and bring him back in when the opportunity presented itself. Begin did not receive a Committee Chair and embraced his position as a rank-and-file MK. Following the departures of Danny Danon and Silvan Shalom, it seemed only natural that Begin would be named alongside Hanegbi to rejoin the cabinet. However, a recent Supreme Court decision and rabbinical decree forced Netanyahu to appoint Litzman as a minister. Netanyahu can decide to ask the coalition partners to increase the cabinet from 20 to 21 seats because each coalition partner agreed to 12 Likud ministers. It is unlikely that Begin will want to modify a Basic Law just so he can rejoin a cabinet table from which he was removed. Begin might not be the leading candidate for the Knesset Defense & Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman position, but Netanyahu knows that Begin is among the people that are expecting a promotion during the current reshuffle.

Avi Dichter, like Hanebgi and Begin, is another former minister from Netanyahu’s government that did not receive a portfolio this time around. Dichter is the former leader of the Shin Bet and a former Homeland Security and Homefront Defense Minister. He is the leading candidate for the Knesset Defense & Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman position. Dichter, like Hanegbi, is a survivor from Kadima, and, like Hangebi, points to his Kadima stint as one of the reasons he was not appointed to the cabinet this time. Begin is another former Likud Minister who at one point spent time in another party.

The other two Likud candidates that missed out on a portfolio at the start of the government are Tzipi Hotovely and Ayoub Kara, who both agreed to Deputy Minister positions with Netanyahu as the sitting minister above them. Hotovely is not expected to ask for a promotion, but Kara probably will. Kara has been one of the unpredictable wildcards of this Likud class. Kara was first elected to the Knesset in 1999 and has always remained in the Likud as a Netanyahu ally until he was overlooked for a ministry position. It is not clear what compensation could be given to Kara in this current reshuffle.

Prime Minister Netanyahu started out as the 21st Minister of his own government. He named himself Foreign Minister, Communications Minister, Regional Cooperation Minister, and Health Minister. Since the government’s formation Litzman replaced him as Health Minister. Netanyahu replaced Shalom as Interior Minister then swapped portfolios with Deri and received the Economy Ministry. Netanyahu is looking to break up the Economy Ministry that was created especially for Naftali Bennett in 2013. Netanyahu wants the ministry to return to its Industry and Trade days, by sending some responsibilities back to the Welfare Ministry. The free portfolio allows him to reshuffle the cabinet positions and give something extra to the new Likud Central Committee Chairman and Welfare Minister Haim Katz. The Interior Ministry might be returned to Netanyahu if the Attorney-General decides that Aryeh Deri needs to suspend himself temporarily. If that does happen the reshuffle could be even larger since it would include another party.

Among the Likud candidates that could be promoted is Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who gave up the Homeland Security portfolio and Security Cabinet position to Erdan when he entered the government. Immigration and Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who gave Erdan the Strategic Affairs Ministry and received the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry, is another option. If Netanyahu decides to enforce the rotation agreement Akunis might need to give the Science and Technology portfolio to Hanegbi and return to a no-portfolio-status. The four veteran Likud ministers – Erdan, Katz, Yaalon and Steinitz are not expected to receive promotions. Neither are Likud’s female ministers Regev and Gamliel.


Netanyahu has said consistently since the government’s formation that he is holding the Foreign Ministry for the opposition party leader who wants it – Liberman, Lapid or Herzog. Over the last year there have been various rumors about an opposition party joining the government, and most of them have focused on Herzog. Herzog has denied any talks over and over again. Herzog’s political future as the leader of Labor, even if he emerges from his legal troubles, is in doubt. Expanding the coalition during the middle of an internal Likud reshuffle seems unlikely. Of course in Israeli politics anything is possible. Rumors of talks are to be expected until the state budget is brought for a final vote in the winter. After the biannual budget is passed Netanyahu’s interest in expanding the coalition will wane. A bill passed by Lapid and Liberman in the previous Knesset has taken the teeth out of no-confidence motions, and the government would not face another crucial vote until the 2019 State Budget. That is, as long as Netanyahu solves the Likud’s internal issues before the Knesset’s Summer Session.

If Herzog does lead the Zionist Union into the coalition it would turn the government reshuffle into a government shakeup, and that would cause chaos for Netanyahu within his Likud Party.

To understand what is happening to the Labor Party today one must understand what happened in January 2011. On January 17, 2011, Defense Minister and Labor Party Leader Ehud Barak announced that he was splitting the party and forming the new Independence Faction along with senior Labor members such as Matan Vilnai and Shalom Simhon. Barak would remain Defense Minister for the rest of Netanyahu’s second term. Labor initially broke down into complete chaos after the split left the party with just 8 seats. Labor eventually united behind Shelly Yacimovich, but the party almost divided into additional pieces.

Labor had dropped to an historic low of 13 seats in the 2009 election. Labor, the party that founded the country and produced seven Prime Ministers, had been regulated to middle-party status with their fourth place finish. Barak, who was Defense Minister in Olmert’s outgoing government, retained his position as he signed a coalition agreement on Labor’s behalf to join Netanyahu’s government. There was opposition in the party to this move and calls for a leadership race were immediate. Barak was able to delay the race with various excuses, the last of which was a commitment to hold the race after the vote on the Netanyahu government’s biannual 2011-2012 budget. With the biannual budget in the books the government was safe through 2013. It was now possible for Barak to split off with over a third of the Labor MKs and remain in the coalition. Interestingly, Barak built the Independence Party on the framework of the defunct Third Way Party, which had also previously split from Labor, and later joined Netanyahu’s first government in the 1990s.

Although the move was great for Barak personally, it was a major blow for the Labor Party.  Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel, and two other MKs conducted their own meetings and prepared to split off from the party. Shelly Yacimovich, Isaac Herzog, and two other MKs decided they would stay in the party no matter what. These two groups of four MKs clashed with each other for days in public and in private. It seemed that the two groups of four MKs were fighting more with each other than with the five MKs that had just split off. Walking the Knesset corridors at this time provided interesting interactions that a gentleman cannot share.

On January 23 former Minister Michael Harish was brought out of political retirement and named interim leader. Internal agreements were reached, and Peretz agreed not to split the party further after receiving an agreement to push off the primary until September and launch a membership drive that would allow new party members to vote in the upcoming leadership election. The membership drive was viewed as particularly important for Peretz because rumors had surfaced he had moved his supporters to the Kadima Party and needed time to bring them back to Labor to be eligible to vote for him in the primary.

A number of candidates considered running for party leadership. Seven candidates announced their candidacy, but only four remained on the ballot by the time the voting started. Yacimovich received 32%, and Peretz received 31% in the first round. Herzog, who had finished in third place, backed Yacimovich in the second round of voting, which helped lead Yacimovich to a 54%-45% victory over Peretz. Harish handed over the keys of the party to Yacimovich in late September 2011, and about 16 months later Labor would win 15 seats in the January 2013 general election.


Most Zionist Union MKs have not found a reason to publicly defend their boss and Leader of the Opposition Isaac Herzog, who is fighting for his political life. There is no political benefit in defending a senior figure under the shadow of a corruption probe at a time when a former Prime Minister and President are both sitting in Israeli jail cells. The pressure for Herzog to set a date for the next Labor Leadership Primary is growing, and a long list of potential candidates are preparing for the upcoming campaign season. Herzog, who was already facing intense pressure before the scandal hit, is adamant he is innocent and is trying even harder than before to delay the leadership race. Herzog’s struggle to push off the leadership race can be compared to Barak’s situation.

The chatter and attention the upcoming Labor Party Primary is receiving in the media and among the political insider circles is quite impressive given the fact this is a party that has failed to win an election in the 21st century.  The long list of candidates that plan on seeking the Labor leadership is even more impressive if you note Lapid’s rise in the polls that has demoted Labor to third place. The long list also resembles the 2011 situation at this point in time.

A recent Panels Poll, conducted after Herzog’s probe was made public, found that only 15% of the Israeli public will consider voting for the Zionist Union ticket in the next election. The general public thinks the Zionist Union should focus on a social agenda (59%) more than security and diplomacy issues (35%). That finding is good for Yacimovich and bad for Herzog. More bad news for Herzog is that the top answer on the poll question of what the Zionist Union’s main problem is was leadership. Panels found that Herzog measured the worst out of the six leaders polled in terms of leader motivation. Only 31% think that Herzog is motivated by the national interest, while 47% believe Herzog is motivated by personal interest. Another Panels poll revealed that 29% of Zionist Union voters from the previous election are now considering not voting for the list again because of Herzog’s probe. Labor was facing similarly tough polling numbers leading up to January 2011.


The first five Labor Party leaders (Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, Peres and Barak) all became Prime Minister, and one can count seven if one includes the pre-merger years of Ben-Gurion and Sharet. Labor’s problem didn’t start with Herzog, nor did it start in January 2011. Labor has been fading since Ariel Sharon defeated Barak in the special Prime Minister election of 2001. The party has been plagued by splits, scandals, and leadership elections that occur about every two years on average.

The Zionist Union of today is a relatively inexperienced party on the political level. 17 of their 24 MKs are either in their first or second terms, including nine rookie MKs. That means just seven MKs with more than three or so years of political experience as an MK.  Three of those seven are former Kadima MKs Tzipi Livni, Yoel Hasson and Nachman Shai, who are viewed more as politicians who made clever political maneuvers than members of Labor’s ideological base. The other four MKs are considered leaders of the most significant camps in the party. Additionally, they are the four surviving members of the eight Labor MKs of January 2011.

Amir Peretz is not just the most senior MK serving in the Labor Party; he is the most senior MK serving in the Knesset. He was elected for the first time in the same 1988 class that produced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Appropriations Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, Defense & Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and MK Benny Begin. Peretz has had a complicated relationship with Labor. He split off from Labor in 1999 and created the One Nation Party. He merged his party back into Labor in 2004. Peretz, a former Histadrut trade union federation leader, defeated Shimon Peres in the 2005 Labor Party primary and led Labor to 19 seats in the 2006 general election. Peretz joined Olmert’s government as Defense Minister and served in that crucial post during the Second Lebanon War. Peretz remained in the party after losing the leadership in 2007. In 2011 Peretz ran again for party leadership after flirting with Kadima, considering splitting Labor, or creating a new party, and lost. He left Labor and joined Livni for the 2013 elections. After replacing Mitzna as Livni’s number 2, Peretz left Livni’s Party and rejoined the Labor Party this past September. He has been around long enough during his political career to have complicated relationships, as both an enemy and a friend to the remaining senior Labor leaders depending on the era in question. He is expected to run again.

Eitan Cabel was first elected to Knesset in 1996, the start of Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minister. He has outlasted all of his Labor colleagues with the exception of Peretz. Cabel is the only one of the current veteran Labor MKs without a previous tenure in Kadima not to be elected Labor’s Leader. Cabel has flirted with the idea of running for party leadership in the past but has never pulled the trigger. It is possible that he will run this time, but it is also possible that he makes a deal to be the main supporter of a different candidate in return for something on the outside such as the Histadrut trade union federation leadership, a position he once ran for and lost.

Shelly Yacimovich, a former journalist, joined the party for the 2006 election. Peretz was leader at the time and responsible for bringing her in, and one could say that she was his most loyal supporter during that period. The relationship soured when Yacimovich backed Ehud Barak over Ami Ayalon in the second round of the June 2007 Labor Party Leadership Primary. Peretz was heavily invested in Ayalon’s campaign and he took Yacimovich’s support of Barak as a sign of betrayal. Yacimovich defeated her former mentor in the second round of the 2011 Leadership Election thanks to support from Herzog. Peretz attacked her publicly and joined Livni’s party ahead of the 2013 general election. Yacimovich led Labor to 15 seats in 2013, and she would lose to Herzog in the primary held later that year. It is almost certain she will run in the upcoming Labor Leadership Election.

Isaac Herzog, a member of the Herzog dynasty, was first elected to Knesset in 2003. His most significant post before entering the Knesset was Government Secretary in Ehud Barak’s cabinet from 1999-2001. Herzog served as a minister during his first three terms as part of the Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu governments. Although he finished third in the 2011 Labor Leadership Primary he was able to pick the winning horse in the second round in Yacimovich. He would later defeat her in the 2013 primary election and become party leader.


In the first week of December 2014, Labor was in third place with 13.4 seats according to the Knesset Jeremy Weekly Average #1 of 12 polls from 9 polling companies. If polling under the 15 seats Yacimovich had won just two years ago wasn’t bad enough, Labor was running closer to fourth place than to second. Three polls from that week had them down at 12 seats which would be under the previous low of Barak’s 13 seats from 2009. It looked like Herzog’s political career was nearing its end and that the Labor party might cement itself with a mid-level party status. Then, Herzog pulled a rabbit out of his hat. The agreement to run a joint ticket with Livni’s party brought his number up to 22.2 seats according to the Knesset Jeremy Weekly Average #2. The Zionist Union ticket would win 24 seats in the election and become the second largest Faction in the Knesset.

It has been over a year since the election, and the Zionist Union’s numbers have dropped. In most polls Labor is polling third, behind Yesh Atid. The joint ticket with Livni is no longer popular internally and the alliance’s continuation is in doubt. Behind-the-scenes, Herzog is perceived by many to be weak, both as leader of Labor and as leader of the opposition. A friend of mine in the opposition called the Zionist Union – “24 MKs that act as if they are in 24 different parties”. Many Labor MKs are silent in public, but some MKs are attacking Herzog directly and others are attacking him indirectly by praising him before expressing their nuanced opinions.

Many of the candidates realize that a membership drive can help them, so they are not looking to oust Herzog quite yet. Erel Margalit, the first candidate to start his campaign, produced a campaign video asking for new members to sign up to the party to support his candidacy. Margalit understands, based on the previous primary results, that he needs to create a new movement that will produce a fresh crop of primary voters unaffiliated with the “big four” if he wants to win. Peretz, who has recently rejoined Labor, is also sure to benefit from a long primary process that will allow him to go through his old lists of supporters and bring them back into the party. Peretz has run for the leadership position many times before and has always finished in double digits, important in a large crop of candidates that will almost definitely produce a second round of voting. Although candidates such as Yacimovich or Cabel might not favor a membership drive it is important for other outside candidates who remain undecided such as Ashkenazi, Huldai, Gantz or others.


Some view Herzog’s recent statements as a move to the right that would allow him to enter the Netanyahu Government as the leader of Labor or perhaps the leader of another split movement. In this scenario Herzog could return to a ministry office and stay there until 2019 if the 2017-2018 biannual budget is passed.

Another option is that Herzog is doing what he can to buy as much time as possible, by convincing the other leadership candidates that his lame-duck months as leader is in their best interest, hoping that time is what is needed to make his possible legal troubles go away. In this scenario Herzog either pulls out another rabbit from his hat like he did in December 2014 or he serves as a de-facto interim leader until he is replaced.

The best way to answer the question on the future of the Zionist Union Faction and the Labor Party is to revisit January 2011. However, the question remains if Herzog is Ehud Barak or Michael Harish.

I’ve stressed this so many times before. When we ask in today’s polls “What party would you vote for if the election was today?” – It is a misleading question. It is misleading because of the many undecided factors of the next election. There are many parameters that are unknown.

There are a few parameters that we do know. We know that the next election will probably take place before the scheduled date, Tuesday November 5, 2019. We know that seven of the ten Faction leaders – Netanyahu, Lapid, Liberman, Kahlon, Bennett, Gal-On, Litzman – are expected to lead their lists into the next election. The misleading poll question is a great way to gauge short-term public opinion. However, to really answer the poll question we have to understand that there are many parameters that are unknown.

We don’t know when the elections will be. We don’t know who will win the Labor Primary Elections. We don’t know what the future of The Joint List holds. We don’t know what will happen in Shas.  We don’t know if Gideon Saar will make a comeback. We don’t know what Gaby Ashkenazi or Benny Gantz will do. We don’t know what Knesset merges and splits are ahead of us. We don’t know if there will be another celebrity candidate that decides to create another ‘star party’. We don’t know how the lists of the Knesset parties will look like. There are many other parameters that can be added to this list.

Let’s examine a few of the various questions and options faction by faction:


What we know: Netanyahu ran unopposed and will lead Likud into the next general election.
What we don’t know: Will Likud run on a joint ticket with other parties, such as Kulanu, to ensure a Phase 1 victory?

Zionist Union

What we know: There will be a Labor Party Leader primary before the next general election.

What we don’t know: Who wins the Labor primary? What happens with the Livni Party alliance? Who are the new additions?

Joint List

What we know: The four major Arab parties passed the threshold because of the Joint List.

What we don’t know: Can they pull it off again?

Yesh Atid

What we know: Lapid will lead Yesh Atid into the next general election and will select his MK list.

What we don’t know: Will there be a joint ticket? Can Lapid add a big star like Ashkenazi or Gantz?


What we know: Kahlon likes the Finance Ministry and wants to stay there.

What we don’t know:  Does Kahlon go with Likud or Yesh Atid?

Bayit Yehudi

What we know: Bennett is expected to lead the party into the next elections.

What we don’t know: Will Tekuma run with Bayit Yehudi or will they join a new right-wing alliance?


What we know: The Shas educational system produces at least 3 seats no matter what.

What we don’t know: Who will lead Shas into the next election? Deri, Cohen or Atias? Does Yishai run with someone else or perhaps returns to Shas as #2 to Atias?


What we know: Everything is about turnout for them.

What we don’t know: What turnout will be?

Yisrael Beitenu

What we know: Liberman has real issues with Netanyahu.

What we don’t know: Will his party run as part of a larger alliance? Will he choose Netanyahu over the center-left candidate?


What we know: The threshold will be an issue for them in the next election, especially if people feel there is a real shot at defeating Netanyahu.

What we don’t know: How many people will vote Meretz because they can’t give their vote to someone else?


There are many undecided factors that need to be resolved before the next election. Polls are still important because they are the best tool we possess to measure the short-term public opinion picture. Many of the factors that need to be resolved before the next election will lean heavily on the data of these polls.

As we get closer many of these factors will be resolved and the picture will become more clear.

Israel was built on the multi-party system. Throughout most of the 20th century Israelis voted for parties over leaders and ideas over people. The mainstream observation of how Israeli politics has changed in the 21st century is the movement of voters to choose leaders over parties and people over ideas. This movement, along with the increase of the electoral threshold, has led to a rise in the number of political arrangements between parties, resulting in just ten Factions for the 20th Knesset. Livni’s Party would not pass the threshold without Labor. Degel HaTorah would not be in Knesset if not for Agudat Yisrael. The same could be said for The Joint List of Hadash, Ra’am, Ta’al and Balad. Tekuma owes their Knesset survival to Bayit Yehudi. The technical bloc of Yachad which failed to cross the threshold is another example.

Israel does not have fewer parties but they do have fewer faction leaders at the top of Knesset lists. One of the most remarkable events of the last election was “The Debate” between eight Faction leaders. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Shas’s Aryeh Deri, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Meretz’s Zahava Gal-On, The Joint List’s Aymen Odeh and Yachad’s Eli Yishai all participated. Netanyahu, Herzog and Litzman were all absent. The Debate focused on how the leaders would solve issues and for the most part ignored their parties. A year after the elections and all these leaders are still leading their parties.

On Wednesday the Knesset ended its winter session. The Knesset passed roughly 110 new laws in 74 plenum sessions and conducted about 1,600 committee meetings over the winter. Before breaking for recess one would think that people would be summarizing their accomplishments or talking about their goals for the next session. Instead the conversation was focused on what would happen to Shas or the Zionist Union if they lose their leaders. Because there has been no turnover since the election, I’d like to extend that question and examine what would happen today if the leaders from each Faction were removed.

Let’s start with Netanyahu. The Likud was founded in 1973 and its founder Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. In fact all four Likud leaders (Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu and Sharon) have become Prime Minister. Of course Likud has had its low points, such as their drop from 38 seats in 2003 (40 following the Yisrael B’Aliyah merger) to 12 in 2006. Likud is on a hot streak and has been the ruling party for the past three terms. They have plenty of candidates who can take over the party and try to become the fifth party leader, and perhaps Prime Minister.

Following its establishment in 1968 the first five Labor Party leaders (Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, Peres, Barak) became Prime Minister. The next five (Ben-Eliezer, Mitzna, Peretz, Yachimovich and Herzog) have not. How would things look without Herzog? I think it could be very likely Herzog loses his next primary before the police make a decision on whether or not to officially press charges. It is possible that the new Labor leader decides to dump Livni. It is less likely, but possible, Livni dumps Labor if she doesn’t like the new leader. There are many candidates and it will be difficult to predict a final result here. Margalit, one of the Labor candidates facing Herzog in the primary that still doesn’t have a date, warned against becoming another Kadima. Kadima fell from 28 seats in 2009 to 2 seats in the following 2013 election. I don’t see Labor falling under the current 3.25% threshold but there is a likely scenario where Lapid takes the momentum and Labor finishes in the high single digits.

The Joint List is a new endeavor, and choosing rookie MK Odeh to lead it was an interesting choice. When you have a collection of four parties anything is possible, and Hadash might not stay if they do not have the top spot on the joint list. Also Odeh may not be re-elected as the leader of Hadash because predicting Central Committee elections is about as accurate as predicting an American Caucus Election.

There is no Yesh Atid without Yair Lapid. The good news for Lapid is that he stands a lot to gain from Herzog’s current troubles. What would happen without Lapid? The current #2 Yael German is not the type of person capable of winning double-digits and Lapid’s former #2 Shai Piron is not either. This is how center parties work and that is also why they don’t last. There is no future for this party without Lapid. The MKs would all scramble and end up in either Likud or Labor.

The same can be said about Kulanu. Without Moshe Kahlon there is no Kulanu. Most of the MKs would probably immediately merge with Likud.

Without Naftali Bennett the Bayit Yehudi would probably go back to the three seats they had with their first leader Professor Daniel Hershkovitz, but the new 3.25% electoral threshold creates a bleak outlook for the party after Bennett. Of course there is the argument that if Ayelet Shaked took over the party that might not be the case.

The focus of Shas has always been on their spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who founded the party in 1984 and de-facto ran it until his death in late 2013. In a clever series of moves Deri was able to regain control of the party and ultimately oust Yishai, who had taken over for him in 2000 after Deri entered prison. If Deri leaves it will be difficult for Yishai, who led the party for 13 years, to come back to Shas, but he might run again with Yachad. The current Shas #2 Itzick Cohen, who also served as interim leader during Deri’s brief retirement prior to last election, is the most likely candidate to replace Deri if he faces jail time again. Cohen lacks the star power needed to keep Shas above the threshold in the post-Yosef era, and Yishai’s list might split the vote enough to throw Shas under the threshold.

Health Minister Litzman was graded as the most popular minister by the general public. There is no chance the Rabbis of the sectorial parties that make up the Faction would replace him against his will. The leader of the UTJ list is also irrelevant to the number of votes they receive. UTJ is the exception to the current trend of voting for leaders over parties.

Liberman is Yisrael Beitenu, just like Lapid is Yesh Atid and Kahlon is Kulanu. Liberman’s party has finished with 4, 12, 15 and 6 seats in the four elections of six when not on a joint ticket. The latest polls have been better for Liberman but this is still a party that will disappear after Liberman leaves. In a case like that most of the MKs would probably join the Likud.

Zahava Gal-On is considered popular within Meretz circles, and any replacement would probably lead to a decline in support for a party that is already flirting with the 3.25% threshold.


To summarize, what would happen to the ten Knesset lists if they replaced their leaders ahead of the next election?

Yesh Atid, Kulanu and Yisrael Beitenu would completely collapse without their leaders and end up under the threshold. Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Meretz would most likely collapse without their leaders and would see a significant decline in seats. Likud, Zionist Union and UTJ are less likely to see a collapse with a new leader, and the Joint List’s fate is too volatile to predict.

One of those cardinal rules in western world politics is if you want to win an election to lead your country you must win the center. In a two-party system that usually means politicians will go to either extreme to win a primary and will walk-it-back to the center to win the general election. In a multi-party system, such as Israel, it is much easier. You can simply create your own party, label yourself as center, and skip the primary.

There is an unofficial rule in Israeli politics that to be a serious Prime Minister candidate you must have first served in one of the top three ministries: Defense, Foreign or Finance. There is a good argument for this unofficial rule since the only exceptions are the first Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion and the long-time Opposition Leader Menachem Begin.

Sharett, Meir, Shamir and Barak were all Foreign Ministers before they became Prime Minister. Eshkol and Olmert were first Finance Ministers. Peres was a Defense Minister before Prime Minister. Sharon had served previously as both Defense and Foreign. Rabin inherited his first term from Meir, but had Defense Ministry experience before he won an elected term. Netanyahu had experience as Deputy Foreign Minister before winning his first election and had previous Foreign and Finance Minister experience before he won his second.

This week two public polls were released. One measured public opinion on Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party. The other poll offered a fictional scenario poll in which a group of centrist figures would win 23 seats to 22 for the Likud. This fictional poll is the first one published that does not have Likud in first place so the pundits have been having a field day with it. The list, which was read out in a random order without naming the leader of the list, would include the unlikely trio of Netanyahu’s former Likud #2s Kahlon and Gideon Sa’ar, along with former IDF COS Gabi Ashkenazi.

One poll was discouraging for Kahlon’s future, and the second poll was promising for him.


Moshe Kahlon first ran for Knesset for Likud in 1999 and was placed #38 on the Likud Knesset list that won 19 seats under Benjamin Netanyahu. After Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak in 2001 Kahlon was appointed to a senior position in hardline-Minister Uzi Landau’s Homeland Security Ministry. Kahlon improved to #25 for the 2003 Likud list led by Prime Minister Sharon that would win 38 seats and Kahlon was elected to the Knesset in a rookie class that would produce two future Likud #2s Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan. Kahlon sided with Landau and became one of the “Likud rebel MKs” against Ariel Sharon and his disengagement plan.  Kahlon was considered a hawk and frequently expressed his opposition to a Palestinian State. Kahlon was the surprise of the 2006 Likud primary and received first place. For the 2006 Election Kahlon was #3 on the Likud Knesset list behind the reserved spots for Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom. Netanyahu appointed Kahlon as Chairman of the powerful Likud Central Committee, and Kahlon won re-election to the important post in 2008. During his second term Kahlon was appointed Knesset Economy Committee Chairman, the highest position given to the opposition Likud by the Olmert government. Many of his internal rivals struck political deals to weaken him and Kahlon dropped in the next primaries to fifth place and was #6 on the 2009 Likud Knesset list that won 27 seats and returned Benjamin Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu handed his ally Kahlon the Communications portfolio and later on gave him a second portfolio, the Labor and Welfare Ministry, after Isaac Herzog resigned the post.

Kahlon was considered very popular in public opinion polls, frequently receiving the top mark among all ministers thanks to his cellphone reform, yet he decided to take a break from politics and not run in the 2013 election. Suddenly rumors spread that Kahlon was considering running on a new list for 2013 and various scenario polls conducted by the television stations increased speculation. After an initial silence, Kahlon announced he was not running on any list in 2013 and he appeared in Likud TV commercials. However, already before the 2013 election cycle was finished, there were rumors that Kahlon was preparing himself for the next cycle to run at the head of a new center party, similarly to what Lapid had just done.

Kahlon wanted to be a Prime Minister candidate, and he made the calculation that Netanyahu was not going to give him one of the top three ministries unless he formed his own party. This was reinforced when the new center party Yesh Atid won 19 seats out of nowhere and Lapid received the Finance Ministry. Sa’ar, Likud’s #2 for the second straight election was actually demoted from Education to the Interior Ministry. Kahlon was ahead of Sa’ar and Erdan, his 2003 Likud classmates, in realizing the only way to really force Netanyahu’s hand was to create his own party and be a coalition partner capable of collapsing the government.


There is no long-term future for “center” parties. Some of these parties last a term and others have lasted as many as three. It is the same problem each time. The party is centered (pun intended) on one popular individual and after that individual leaves the party collapses. There are other problems of course. The MKs of center parties are usually chosen by the popular individual, instead of democratic primaries, and with that kind of power the popular individual usually leads to selecting unthreatening personalities that frequently turn out to be completely clueless and/or useless lawmakers. These MKs are subject to turning on their former boss and examining options to jump to another party if their current party is crashing in the polls. Another problem is that when it comes to voting on legislation there is no “center button”, there is a decision that must be made, for or against. In Israel events change rapidly, and it is almost impossible to stay in the center without constant flip-flopping, and that usually leads to untrustworthy and unfavorable numbers that prevent you from doing any long-term planning.

People look at Kadima when they say that the center can maintain long-term success. After all Kadima was represented in Knesset for close to ten years through three elections and by three different leaders. Ehud Olmert led the center party Kadima to 29 seats in 2006 and became the first centrist Prime Minister. Of course it was Ariel Sharon’s party that Olmert inherited. Kadima’s next leader Tzipi Livni failed to maintain Olmert’s coalition, and couldn’t create a new one afterwards either, despite winning Phase 1 in the 2009 election with 28 seats. The thing is that Livni’s Kadima was not Olmert’s Kadima, not really. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of new faces and MK Ze’ev Elkin decided that he’d rather move to the Likud than remain in a Livni-led Kadima. When Shaul Mofaz won the Kadima leadership it changed the party again. Kadima fell from 28 seats to two. Of course to be fair Mofaz’s Kadima wasn’t Livni’s Kadima either. Livni in fact had seven Kadima MKs break off and create a new party for her. Other Kadima MK refugees ran to the Likud and a few ran in the Labor Party primaries. One Kadima MK even tried to run as part of an Arab list.

After raising the electoral threshold to 3.25% the 20th Knesset tied a record for electing just ten lists. I’ve gone on record predicting that the next Knesset will most likely elect a single-digit number of lists for the first time as the Israeli political landscape in my opinion consolidates instead of splits. This might be the first Knesset term in a while where there is no “new white knight savior” candidate. Instead we might have a new alliance list that is made up of many personalities and parties that all want to capture the center vote without actually having to be in the center.


Kahlon’s numbers are dropping. He has not received double digits in any poll conducted since he joined the coalition. Housing prices are not going down, he has not taken on the banks as promised, his flip-flop on the natural gas deal has hurt his credibility, and he is perceived by many as the weak ineffective fig leaf of the coalition. The good news for Kahlon is that he still owns ten seats, he is sitting in the prestigious Finance Ministry, and he is the senior coalition partner of the government. Kahlon will have time to see his current reforms through after agreeing to a two-year-budget for 2017 and 2018.

As for his future, the likelihood that Kahlon runs alone in the next election is small. The Kulanu Party is simply not conducting themselves as a party that is seeking re-election. Kulanu is completely absent in the field and seems to be going through the motions instead of putting down roots.

Kahlon will probably do what previous center party leaders have done before him – try to make a deal. Kahlon will no doubt try to get the deal Tzipi Livni made where Herzog appointed her to #2 on a joint list where she was allowed to keep her own independent party and appoint her own people. Despite the current scenario poll, a Livni-type deal is something that today would only be worthwhile for Kahlon if it came from Netanyahu or Lapid. In fact, Kahlon negotiated possible joint lists with both of them before the previous election but realized he would have more power long-term if he ran with his own party now and sold high when he has the party funding of a ten-seat-party that didn’t spend much money during the previous term. Most of the Kulanu MKs would prefer Likud to Yesh Atid and returning to the Likud makes more sense for Kahlon as long as Netanyahu and his allies remain strong in polling. Netanyahu has already made a few deals to place a different party head at #2 and run on a joint list, most recently in the 2013 election that Kahlon decided to sit out. Even if Kahlon does prefer Lapid, Netanyahu is older than Lapid, and that is a factor for anyone who wants to be Prime Minister one day.

What about our weekend scenario poll? Kahlon has good relations with Sa’ar, and he views him as an ideal #2. However, if Sa’ar wouldn’t agree to be Netanyahu’s #2, why would he agree to be Kahlon’s? Ashkenazi, a former IDF COS, does not seem like a #2 type of player. Sa’ar is more popular than Kahlon, but Kahlon won’t agree to hand his party over to someone else. Attaching Sa’ar’s name to scenario polls makes for interesting conversation, but he will most likely wait for the next Likud leadership election or, the less likely option, start his own party as Kahlon did before him.

Our scenario poll does teach us that Lapid loses his standing the minute there is a better perceived alternative to Netanyahu. If Lapid had convinced Livni or Kahlon to be his #2 in the previous election he would most likely be the leader of the second largest list and the official Opposition Leader right now. Lapid is already inheriting Kulanu and Zionist Union voters, but he might lose them if he doesn’t include their leaders. As Herzog’s grip weakens the Zionist Union MKs are becoming increasingly independent and a chunk of them might break off and join a new center alliance with or without Herzog.

So, we have a group of politicians who are looking to the center for their political survival, and Kahlon is an important key for many of them. Many of Kahlon’s opponents know there is likely a scenario where they will need him and his ten seats of party funding to ensure their survival. It is a real dilemma for these figures if they should publicly attack Kahlon or not. If you attack Kahlon too much you might be sending him straight into the hands of Netanyahu. If you don’t attack him enough he might use you as a bargaining chip before jumping into Netanyahu’s arms anyways. For now the tactic some are using is attacking the Kulanu Party instead of Kahlon directly.

There probably is no future for the Kulanu Party, but there is a future for Moshe Kahlon.