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מי זה ג’רמי סלטן

 

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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.

This week marked two anniversaries for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Sunday marked his 10th year in office as Prime Minister and Thursday marked a year since the most recent Knesset election that most polls and pundits said he would lose.

Although Netanyahu is celebrating both of these achievements, he is a man who looks ahead, and has his eyes on two key dates in 2019. Netanyahu has been in office for so long that you can remove the three-plus-years from his first term in the nineties and he is still ahead of third place Yitzchak Shamir. However, if Netanyahu is still sitting in the Prime Minister’s Chair on July 4, 2019, he will tie David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, a record that would help define his legacy as his generation’s Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister born after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Of course if you decide, as some do, not to count the days that Ben-Gurion served as Prime Minister before the first Knesset, Netanyahu will pass Israel’s first Prime Minister in late 2018. I’d rather focus on the future United States Independence Day, since Ben-Gurion did act as Prime Minister from May 14, 1948 – March 10, 1949, even though no one elected him.

The second date is the next scheduled election on Tuesday November 5, 2019. The chances the Knesset completes the current term are very slim since almost every Knesset term is cut short. However, the possibility is worth examining since his narrow 61-seat coalition is running more smoothly than expected. To pass Ben-Gurion Netanyahu must find a way to bring this current term to at least the beginning of 2019. Netanyahu can pass “the old man” even if he calls for an early election in January 2019 and loses, thanks to a 90-day-minimum election period and an approximately two-month coalition-building process.

A huge key for Netanyahu to achieve this feat is passing a two-year-budget for 2017 and 2018. The struggle of passing a State Budget is viewed by most as the biggest test for any government and it becomes even tougher with a narrow 61-59 margin. There are few opportunities where defeating the government can lead to replacing it. The new rules passed by Liberman & Lapid in the last government, when they were in the coalition, made it much more difficult for a government to be toppled by a no-confidence motion vote.

 

Netanyahu’s ability to achieve either 2019 date is dependent on the state of his current government. This weekend’s Comprehensive Panels poll measures the public opinion on the popularity of the parties, ministers, and asks an array of useful questions to gather data on the state of his current government.

To get a good picture of where things stand on a party-to-party basis let’s measure this poll against the average of the previous ten polls and the election results of a year ago and view the poll’s additional questions in that context.

Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the election, the 10PA (10-poll-average) is 26.9 and Likud received 26 in this poll. Netanyahu is graded 4.6 by the public on a 1-10 scale for his job as Prime Minister. He receives even lower marks as Foreign Minister (4.1), Communications Minister (3.9), Economy Minister (3.9) and Regional Cooperation Minister (3.8). In head-to-head matchups for Prime Minister Netanyahu defeats both Lapid and Bennett by 11 points each. He defeats Ashkenazi by 14 and Liberman by 26 points. Netanyahu does the best against Opposition Leader Herzog with a whopping 31 point margin of victory. A majority of voters are against Lapid joining a national unity government and an even larger majority reject the Zionist Union entering a national unity government. Likud ranks 5th of the 10 lists in terms of voter regret with 17%. 6% wished they voted for Bayit Yehudi, 6% for Yesh Atid and 5% for Yisrael Beitenu. 21% of 2015 Likud voters feel Netanyahu holding on to the Communications portfolio and his policies are a danger for democracy and freedom of expression. There are more Israelis who believe there is an alternative to Netanyahu, but that is an opinion that is heavily weighted by center and left voters. 53% of right voters overall and 70% of Likud voters do not see an alternative to Netanyahu.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is the highest ranked Likud Minister and is ranked second among all ministers with an impressive 5.8 showing. Despite the impressive score Katz ranks fifth, both among the general public and Likud voters, in the question of who should replace Netanyahu as Likud leader when he eventually retires. Yaalon (5.4) is the second most popular Likud minister on the list and tied for fourth most poular overall. The Defense Minister ties for second in the general public as Netanyahu’s replacement but slips to third among Likud voters. Homeland Security Minister Erdan is the third most popular Likud minister and ties for sixth among all ministers. The #2 on the 2015 Likud list is fourth among the five options among the general public but among Likud voters Erdan jumps to second place and is within the margin of error of defeating Likud’s #2 in the 2009 & 2013 Elections, Gideon Saar. Saar has a more comfortable lead with the general public. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is another candidate that does better among the general public (second) over Likud voters (fourth).  Culture & Sports Minister Regev is ranked fourth among the Likud ministers. In one of the more fascinating questions we learn that Regev is viewed by Sephardic Jews and Likud voters as advancing Sephardi interests while Ashkenazi Jews and the general public think that she is harming Sephardi interests. The lowest ranked Likud Minister, a long-time Netanyahu loyalist, is Yuval Steinitz, who finishes among the bottom five of all 19 ministers.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid dropped from 19 seats to 11 in last year’s election. Their 10PA is 18.0 and they received 21 in the latest poll. This is Yesh Atid’s second straight poll with a 21-seat showing, and there is momentum since the party has not dipped under 15 seats in any poll conducted since November. Yesh Atid has tied or placed higher than the Zionist Union in nine of the eleven polls conducted over the last year. Lapid is five seats behind Netanyahu in this poll, and he ties with Bennett as the best candidate to go head-to-head with Netanyahu. Over a third of Yesh Atid’s growth is from Kulanu voters, and about a fifth comes from the Zionist Union. Yesh Atid also takes votes from Meretz, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. Only Meretz and UTJ voters regretted their vote less than Yesh Atid voters. Lapid is doing a good job sensing the pulse of voters as the general public doesn’t want Yesh Atid to join the government. The only bad news for Lapid is the popularity of UTJ leader Litzman as Health Minister who replaced Lapid’s current #2 Yael German and Litzman’s refusal to shake his hand or even acknowledge his presence.

Zionist Union captured 24 seats last March. Their 10PA is 17.1, and they are trending down, receiving just 15 seats in this poll. If it wasn’t bad enough that Opposition Leader Herzog fares worst among potential candidates in a head-to-head matchup with Netanyahu with a 31 point deficit, only Kulanu and Joint List voters regret their decision from last year more than the Zionist Union voters. Herzog’s 3.5 rating on a 1-10 scale as Opposition Leader is worse than all of the 19 ministers of Netanyahu’s government and about two-thirds of Israelis want him to stay out of government. It seems that Meretz, the only party that nominated Herzog in Phase 2, is the only opposition party that still seems to take Herzog’s leadership of the opposition seriously.

Bayit Yehudi fell from 12 seats to 8 in the last election. In this poll Bayit Yehudi climb back to 12. This is pretty consistent with their 11.5 10PA that has been slowly trending upwards. Education Minister Naftali Bennett is tied for fourth among all ministers with a 5.4 record with the general public and his key ally, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, outscores him for third place with a 5.7 showing. In another encouraging finding for the Bayit Yehudi leader, Bennett ties Lapid as the best candidate against Netanyahu in a head-to-head matchup 40% Netanyahu to 29% Bennett. Bennett putting up better numbers than Ashkenazi, Liberman and Herzog, among general public voters is something that baffled many analysts I spoke with over the weekend and might indicate the popularity of his educational reforms. Tekuma Minister Uri Ariel is ranked as third to the bottom with a 4.2 score. Bayit Yehudi finished seventh among the ten lists in terms of voter regret.

The Joint List won 13 seats a year ago. They have a 12.8 10PA and received 12 seats in the latest poll. Their bad news is the four parties that make up the list will use the finding, that their voters regret their vote more than any other party except for Kulanu, to fuel in-fighting. Their good news is that they remain pretty consistent with a high of 14 and a low of 12.

Yisrael Beitenu fell from 13 seats before the election to just six seats after it. Analysts have had a tough time understanding Liberman’s long-term strategy after his bizarre decision to leave the Foreign Ministry on the table, after nominating Netanyahu in Phase 2, that left him in the opposition. Yisrael Beitenu has an 8.3 10PA and receives nine seats in the latest poll. Although his party is slowly recovering Liberman loses to Netanyahu 49% to 23% in a head-to-head matchup, and he is losing 5% of his previous voters to Yesh Atid. Liberman has run on a joint list in two of his six elections, and it is possible he will look to do so again next time. Yisrael Beitenu ranked fourth in voter regret.

UTJ receives seven seats in the latest poll. The joint Agudat Yisrael-Degel HaTorah list lost their seventh seat in the previous election. UTJ has a 6.6 10PA and has received either six or seven seats in each of the last 11 polls. UTJ ranked 10 of 10 on voter regret. UTJ leader and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman ranked as the top minister in Israel with a 6.4 score among the general public.

Shas receives six seats in the latest poll, a drop of a seat from the seven they received in the election. Shas has a 6.8 10PA and is trending down with six six-seat showings in the last nine polls. Shas Religious Services Minister David Azoulay ranks 18th out of the 19 ministers at 4.2. Shas Leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri ranks dead last with 4.1 among the general public.  Shas finished six of ten on voter regret.

Kulanu receives six seats in the latest poll. Kahlon’s party received ten seats in the elections and has a 6.5 10PA, failing to make double digits in every poll conducted since last year’s election. Of the ten lists Kulanu voters regret their vote the most. Many of those voters now prefer Lapid. Finance Minister Kahlon ties for sixth among all ministers, Avi Gabai is ninth, and Yoav Galant is 16th.

Meretz recaptures the sixth seat in the latest poll that they had lost in the election. Meretz’s 10PA is 5.5 and they rank ninth out of the ten lists in party regret.

 

Netanyahu, who was unopposed, has already secured his nomination as Likud’s candidate for Prime Minister in the next election. The previous Knesset term was the second shortest in history. After a year his four coalition partners do not have a good reason to topple the government. His senior coalition partner, Kulanu, has dropped in polls and is now ranked 9th of the 10 parties in 10PA. Bennett needs more experience as a minister and security cabinet member before he can compete as a Prime Minister candidate on the right. Both Shas and UTJ enjoy the budgets they secured in the coalition agreement and the leverage they enjoy in a narrow coalition. There is no external threat to the coalition as the opposition remains fragmented. Lapid may have narrowed the gap in the polls but in the current Knesset there is a large 19-seat difference between Likud and Yesh Atid, and the only opposition party that is cooperating with Lapid is Liberman.

 

What we learn from this poll as Netanyahu celebrates two important anniversaries in 2016 is that the chances Netanyahu makes it to both key 2019 dates seem higher than they did last year.

Israel Counter up to 123 in the 13 GOP main events (12 Debates+NH Forum) after 31 mentions during last night’s CNN debate. “Israel” or “Israeli” was mentioned 12 times by Trump, 8 by Rubio, 6 by Cruz and 5 by Kasich. There was no mention during the previous Fox debate.

 

GOP Events Times Last Debate Total
Trump 11 17 12 29
Cruz 13 22 6 28
Rubio 13 13 8 21
Kasich 13 5 5 10
13 candidates that dropped out n/a 35 n/a 35

 

GOP Events Times
Huckabee 7 6 out
Carson 11 4 out
Fiorina 8 4 out
Pataki 5 4 out
Jindal 5 4 out
Bush 10 3 out
Paul 7 3 out
Christie 9 2 out
Graham 5 2 out
Walker 3 2 out
Santorum 8 1 out
Gilmore 2 0 out
Perry 2 0 out

*Events: Debates+NH Forum

Quick recap for new followers: The road to the Prime Minister’s House is a 3-phase process. Phase 1 is the results of the Knesset election process. Phase 2 is the nomination process at the President’s Residence. Phase 3 is the Knesset vote that approves the government presented by the Prime Minister candidate that was nominated by the President and succeeded in forming a coalition.

I believe I am the only website that has tracked every Knesset-seat-poll over Netanyahu’s second, third and fourth terms as they were published or broadcasted.  Loyal readers have noticed that under every poll I match the blocs up in a specific way that examines the Phase 2 chances of a Netanyahu re-election. From time to time people question that breakdown. Already in 2010 I was criticized by my followers for not using the standard coalition-opposition breakdown. Current events highlight the importance of why I divide up the blocs the way I do.

In 2009 Tzipi Livni won Phase 1 with Kadima winning 28 seats to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud with 27. For some curious reason some in the international media decided to believe Livni’s spin from election night that she had a good shot at succeeding Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister. Most insiders knew that wasn’t going to happen. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu’s first term Avigdor Liberman would take Yisrael Beitenu’s 15 seats to Livni over his former boss. In Phase 2 Netanyahu received the nomination of 65 MKs. Livni entered the President’s Residence with 28 seats and left with no other party agreeing to nominate her despite her Phase 1 victory.

It was during Phase 2 of the 2009 process that I realized the vital importance of the right-religious bloc. Ehud Barak brought Labor and their 13 seats into Netanyahu’s coalition so that he could remain the Defense Minister. National Union and their four seats were left out in the cold despite their Phase 2 nomination of Netanyahu. This was interesting on both fronts. Barak, who didn’t nominate Netanyahu in Phase 2, only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without him. Perhaps more importantly, Netanyahu was willing to give up on a party that nominated him in Phase 2.

In 2013 Netanyahu’s Likud Beitenu alliance with Liberman won Phase 1 with 31 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Labor Party Leader Shelly Yacimovich who gave a speech election night, when partial results showed a 60-60 bloc tie, claiming that an anti-Netanyahu bloc could be formed to oust him. Results started to indicate the right-religious bloc would get its 61st seat and Yair Lapid announced he would nominate Netanyahu for another term.  In Phase 2, Netanyahu had 82 MKs nominations and many options. His first move was to sign a coalition deal with Livni, who didn’t nominate him in Phase 2, who only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without her. Despite nominating him in Phase 2, Shas, UTJ and even Kadima were all left out.

In 2015 Netanyahu’s Likud won Phase 1 with 30 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Zionist Union/Labor Party Leader Issac Herzog who gave a speech election night that he had a shot at building a coalition. Besides overpromising on ministry portfolios Herzog faced the situation that Kahlon said he wouldn’t sit with the Arabs, Liberman said he wouldn’t sit with Meretz and the Haredim said they wouldn’t sit with Yesh Atid. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Likud Central Committee Chairman and the only Likud Minister Netanyahu trusted with two portfolios during his second term Moshe Kahlon would take his ten seats to Herzog. There was also talk of President Rivlin pushing a national unity government even though the law states clearly that the President must give the first crack at forming a new coalition to the candidate that produces 61 or more nominating votes. Netanyahu received 67 MKs’ nominations to Herzog’s 29. The only other list to back Herzog was Meretz. The Joint List and Yesh Atid made the decision not to nominate Herzog in Phase 2. Netanyahu produced a 61-MK narrow coalition in Phase 3 after failing to come to an agreement with Liberman.

An interesting aspect of the 2015 election was the Arab-Left-Center bloc that can be labeled the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc”. If the four lists – Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, The Joint List and Meretz – would have together produced 61 seats then Netanyahu would have been defeated. We have established that there are changes in coalition politics between the nominating process of Phase 2 and the vote of Phase 3. In this scenario it would have been enough for the The Joint List to nominate Herzog in Phase 2 and serve as a placeholder for the Haredim or Liberman to replace them for Phase 3. The problem with the math was that even in this event Herzog would not be able to complete a coalition puzzle for Phase 3, but it could have been enough for Netanyahu to retire during Herzog’s failed attempt and for Likud to choose someone else that would be able to form a coalition afterwards.

This weekend reports surfaced of the latest attempt to unseat Netanyahu – a party or bloc of Lapid-Kalon-Liberman-Sa’ar-Ashkenazi. This reminds me of the Olmert-Livni-Lapid-Ramon-Shelly meetings to run on a party or bloc for the 2013 elections. The attempt is to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 in Phase 2. This measure has failed in the past because despite what the mainstream media says there has been no one else with the ability to be competitive for those 61 Phase 2 nominations. However, this modified plan to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 nominations as opposed to an alternative of a single candidate trying to secure 61 for themselves is an interesting development. As I stated previously, had the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc” of the center-left-Arab reached 61 seats it could have been possible to oust Netanyahu.

It is enough for one of the chips to fall out for a plan like this to collapse. At the once-every-five-years Yisrael Beitenu conference Liberman slammed Netanyahu saying he can’t trust him and won’t promise to recommend him as PM in next election. The part many reporters left out was that he also said he would never join a left-wing government. You might be able to count on Liberman to back an alternative candidate for Phase 2, but you run into the same Phase 3 problems of the previous election of his refusal to sit with Meretz or the Arabs.

Kahlon’s Faction Chairman MK Roy Folkman told Knesset TV on December 22nd that “the Prime Minister contacts us all the time and he places a lot of concrete proposals on the table but merging Kulanu into the Likud is not relevant at this point in time”.  Before the last elections Kahlon, after flirting with Lapid, started negotiations with Likud on a joint list that went on until a day before the final lists were submitted. If Kahlon, whose voters mostly supported Netanyahu for Prime Minister, moved away from the Likud he’d have to revamp his list because many of his MKs prefer Netanyahu to Lapid.

In the event we are talking about a “center-bloc” instead of a “mother-party”, Liberman, Kahlon and even Netanyahu’s former #2 Gideon Sa’ar might balk at not nominating Netanyahu. Despite “talking tough” they have all fallen in line with Netanyahu during the Phase 2 process. The three are all center-right and might not want to risk ending this current long tenure of the right in power just to remove Netanyahu. More importantly, the three all want senior portfolios and are more valuable to Netanyahu than the Herzog-Livni-Lapid-Ashkenazi struggle for the top spots. Liberman can’t be Defense Minister if Ashkenazi is a player. Kahlon can’t keep a senior portfolio if all the top center-left candidates are expecting one. Sa’ar isn’t going to come back to politics unless he gets one of the top three or four ministries. Egos and portfolios matter. Some argue it was Herzog’s indication that he would give Finance to Lapid over Kahlon that led Kulanu into the coalition. Liberman said he would have signed the coalition deal if Netanyahu agreed to give him the Defense Ministry and if Netanyahu hadn’t reached 61 MKs with his current coalition he might have done just that.

If the current coalition of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ are able to stay over 61 MKs none of this will even matter. Netanyahu knows this and that is the plan he is working on. Although I’m sure that if the current coalition grows in the next election the narrative will shift and there will be analysts and pundits that will assure us Shas would prefer a coalition where they would receive lower budgets and less power.

 

I’m going to keep measuring the blocs according to my Phase 2 predictions as I have since 2010. Liberman, Kahlon & Sa’ar will remain in the right column and Lapid & Ashkenazi will remain in the left. The right-religious bloc is the best indicator of Netanyahu’s chance at a fifth term. The center-left-Arab bloc is the key to defeating Netanyahu.

Israel Counter up to 92 in the 11 GOP main events (Debates+NH Forum) after a record 43 mentions during this debate. In this CNN debate “Israel” or “Israeli” was mentioned 17 times by Cruz, 15 by Trump, 5 by Rubio, 3 by Kasich and 3 by Carson.

GOP Events Times Last Debate Total
Cruz      11         5           17                22
Trump  9          2           15                17
Rubio    11        8             5                13
Kasich  11        2              3                 5
Carson 11         1             3                  4

GOP Events Times
Huckabee 7 6 out
Fiorina 8 4 out
Pataki 5 4 out
Jindal 5 4 out
Bush 10 3 out
Paul 7 3 out
Christie 9 2 out
Graham 5 2 out
Walker 3 2 out
Santorum 8 1 out
Gilmore 2 0 out
Perry 2 0 out
*Events: Debates+NH Forum

Israel Counter up to 46

Israel Counter up to 46 in GOP Debates+NH Forum compared to one mention in the four on the Democratic Party side (Debates+SC Forum). Overall Israel was mentioned four times, one each, by four candidates during the the Fox Business Debate.

GOP Events Times
Huckabee6 6
Cruz 7 5
Rubio 7 5
Fiorina 7 4
Paul 7 3
Bush 7 3
Kasich 7 2
Christie7 2
Trump 6 2
Santorum7 1
Carson 7 1
Gilmore 1 0
Pataki 5 4 out
Jindal 5 4 out
Graham 5 2 out
Walker 3 2 out
Perry 2 0 out
*Events: Debates+NH Forum

Dem Events Times
Clinton 4 0
O’Malley4 0
Sanders 4 0
Webb 1 1 out
Chafee 1 0 out
*Events: Debates+SC Forum

Israel Counter in GOP Debates at 42

Israel Counter up to 42 in GOP Debates+NH Forum compared to one mention in the two on the Democrat side (Debate+SC Forum). Overall Israel was mentioned four times, one each, by four candidates during the CNN Debate.

GOP Events Times
Huckabee 5 5
Cruz 6 5
Rubio 6 4
Fiorina 6 4
Pataki 5 4
Paul 6 3
Bush 6 2
Kasich 6 2
Christie 6 2
Graham 5 2
Trump 5 2
Santorum 6 1
Carson 6 0
Gilmore 1 0
Jindal 5 4 out
Walker 3 2 out
Perry 2 0 out

Dem Events Times
Clinton 3 0
O’Malley 3 0
Sanders 3 0
Webb 1 1 out
Chafee 1 0 out

Israel Counter up to 38 in GOP Debates/Forums compared to one mention in the two on the Democrat side (Debate+Forum). Overall Israel was mentioned six times by four candidates during the Fox Business Debate.

A few quotes:

Rubio – “We have a president who treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than the Ayatollah.”

Trump – “Walls work – ask Israel”

Kasich – “U,S, has no better ally in the world than Israel”

Cruz – “Under Clinton’s leadership we abandoned our ally Israel”

GOP Events Times
Cruz 5 5
Rubio 5 4
Fiorina 5 4
Jindal 5 4
Paul 5 3
Huckabee 4 3
Pataki 4 3
Bush 5 2
Kasich 5 2
Christie 5 2
Graham 4 2
Santorum 5 1
Trump 4 1
Carson 5 0
Gilmore 1 0
Walker 3 2 out
Perry 2 0 out
Dem Events Times
Clinton 2 0
O’Malley 2 0
Sanders 2 0
Webb 1 1 out
Chafee 1 0 out

Israel Counter up to 32 in GOP Debates/Forums compared to 1 mention in the single Democrat Debate.

Pataki was only candidate to discuss Israel in event #4, mentioning their federal agency cyber security program. It was expected that a debate focused on the economy and hosted by CNBC would not be Israel oriented. Trump spoke out against the Iran deal again. Graham, as usual, also focused a lot on foreign policy.

GOP Events Times
Fiorina 4 4
Cruz 4 4
Jindal 4 4
Huckabee 3 3
Paul 4 3
Pataki 4 3
Bush 4 2
Christie 4 2
Graham 4 2
Rubio 4 1
Kasich 4 1
Santorum 4 1
Trump 3 0
Carson 4 0
Gilmore 1 0
Walker 3 2 out
Perry 2 0 out
Dem Events Times
Clinton 1 0
O’Malley 1 0
Sanders 1 0
Webb 1 1 out
Chafee 1 0 out