Category: Weekend Perspective


The latest Weekend Perspective piece “Israeli Elections 2019 Knesset Insider: The divisions before the unions” can be found at the link below:

https://www.jns.org/israeli-elections-2019-knesset-insider-the-divisions-before-the-unions/

Short Summary of the 20 Knesset Terms & 34 Governments

Includes the Phase 1-2-3 results and coalition government majority numbers throughout the term. You can read more about the Phase 1-2-3 System here: 

 

Provisional State Council:

May 14, 1948 – February 14, 1949

Prime Minister: David Ben Gurion

No Phase System.

 

1st Knesset:

February 14, 1949 – August 20, 1951

Prime Minister: David Ben Gurion (Mapai)

Phase 1: Mapai wins with 46 seats.

Phase 2: Ben Gurion is nominated by 73 MKs.

Phase 3: 1st Government is confirmed by 73 MKs.

1st Government Term: 10 March 1949 30 October 1950

Ben Gurion resigned on 15 October 1950 to form a new government. The 1st government remained for 16 days until the 2nd government was formed.

2nd Government Formed: 1 November 1950 8 October 1951

Ben Gurion’s first attempt at forming the 2nd government failed when only 52 MKs supported his government. His second attempt produced the same 73 MK coalition as the 1st Government. The 2nd Government eventually fell causing early elections.

 

2nd Knesset:

August 20, 1951 – August 15, 1955

Prime Ministers: David Ben Gurion (Mapai) & Moshe Sharet (Mapai)

Phase 1: Mapai wins with 45 seats.

Phase 2: Ben Gurion is nominated by 65 MKs.

Phase 3: 3rd Government is confirmed by 65 MKs.

3rd Government Term: 8 October 1951 24 December 1952

On 23 September 1952 the Haredi parties left the 3rd Government and the coalition dropped to 60 seats. Ben Gurion resigned on 19 December 1952 to form the fourth government.

4th Government Formed: 24 December 1952 26 January 1954

Ben Gurion formed a larger coalition of 87 MKs. The General Zionists left the coalition briefly from 26 May – 2 June 1953 bringing the coalition down to 64 MKs, but the party returned for the remainder of the Government term. The government fell when Ben Gurion announced on 6 December 1953 that he was retiring to the Negev. Moshe Sharet won an internal Mapai party power struggle with Levi Eshkol and formed the 5th Government.

Ben Gurion Retires – Replaced by Sharet

Phase 2: Sharet is nominated by 89 MKs.

Phase 3: 5th Government is confirmed by 89 MKs.

5th Government Formed: 26 January 1954 29 June 1955

Sharet resigned on 29 June 1955 to form the 6th Government.

6th Government Formed: 29 June 1955 3 November 1955

Sharet formed a smaller coalition of 66 MKs. The 6th Government remained in place until elections were held for the 3rd Knesset.

 

3rd Knesset:

August 15, 1955 – November 30, 1959

Prime Minister: David Ben Gurion (Mapai)

Phase 1: Mapai wins with 40 seats.

Phase 2: Ben Gurion is nominated by 80 MKs.

Phase 3: 7th Government is confirmed by 80 MKs.

7th Government Formed: 3 November 1955 7 January 1958

Ben Gurion resigned on 31 December 1957 to form the 8th Government.

8th Government Term: 7 January 1958 17 December 1959

Ben Gurion formed another coalition with 80 MKs. He resigned on 5 July 1959 and the government acted as a caretaker government until elections were held for the 4th Knesset.

 

4th Knesset

November 30, 1959 – September 04, 1961

Prime Minister: David Ben Gurion (Mapai)

Phase 1: Mapai wins with 47 seats.

Phase 2: Ben Gurion is nominated by 86 MKs.

Phase 3: 9th Government is confirmed by 86 MKs.

9th Government Formed: 17 December 1959 2 November 1961

Ben Gurion’s coalition grew from 86 to 89 MKs when one of the Haredi parties joined the coalition on 19 July 1960. Ben Gurion resigned on 31 January 1961 and the 9th Government acted as a caretaker government until early elections were held for the 5th Knesset.

 

5th Knesset

September 04, 1961– November 22, 1965

Prime Minister: David Ben Gurion (Mapai) & Levi Eshkol (Mapai)

Phase 1: Mapai wins with 42 seats.

Phase 2: Ben Gurion is nominated by 68 MKs.

Phase 3: 10th Government is confirmed by 68 MKs.

10th Government Formed: 2 November 1961 26 June 1963

Ben Gurion failed to form a government and returned his mandate to the President. Eshkol received the mandate and formed the government with Ben Gurion as Prime Minister. Ben Gurion resigned on 16 June 1963 and retired for a second time from politics.

Ben Gurion Retires – Replaced by Eshkol

Phase 2: Eshkol is nominated by 68 MKs.

Phase 3: 11th Government is confirmed by 68 MKs.

11th Government Term: 26 June 1963 22 December 1964

Eshkol carried on with the same 68 MK coalition that existed in the 10th Government. Eshkol resigned on 15 December 1964 to form a new government.

12th Government Term: 22 December 1964 12 January 1966

Eshkol formed a coalition of 67 MKs that lasted for the remainder of the 5th Knesset.

 

6th Knesset

November 22, 1965 – November 17, 1969

Prime Minister: Levi Eshkol (Alignment), Yigal Alon (Alignment) & Golda Meir (Alignment)

Phase 1: Alignment wins with 45 seats.

Phase 2: Eshkol is nominated by 75 MKs.

Phase 3: 13th Government is confirmed by 75 MKs.

13th Government Formed: 12 January 1966 17 March 1969

Eshkol’s coalition grew from 75 to 85 when Gachal joined the 13th Government on 1 June 1967 (ahead of the 6-Day-War). By 5 June 1967 the 13th Government had a coalition of 111 of the 120 MKs. This was the largest coalition in Israeli history. By the start of 1969 the Alignment had grown to 63 MKs. Eshkol died in office on 2 February 1969. Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Alon served as Interim Prime Minister for the 19 days until the 14th Government was formed. Meir emerged from the internal party struggle to lead the Alignment which automatically gave her a majority of 63 MKs before she formed her coalition.

Eshkol dies in office – Alon serves in interim – Meir takes over

Phase 2: Meir was nominated by 104 MKs.

Phase 3: 14th Government was confirmed by 104 MKs.

14th Government Term: 17 March 1969 15 December 1969

Meir’s 14th Government of 104 MKs was smaller than the outgoing 111 MK coalition of the 13th Government. The 14th Government remained in place for the remainder of the 6th Knesset.

 

7th Knesset

November 17, 1969 – January 21, 1974

Prime Minister: Golda Meir (Alignment)

Phase 1: Alignment wins with 56 seats.

Phase 2: Meir is nominated by 102 MKs.

Phase 3: 15th Government is confirmed by 102 MKs.

15th Government Formed:  15 December 1969 10 March 1974

Meir’s 15th Government of 102 MKs was smaller than her outgoing 104 MK coalition of the 14th Government. The 15th Government dropped to 76 MKs when Gachal left the coalition on 6 August 1970. The Government and Knesset extended its term due to Yom Kippur War.

 

8th Knesset

January 21, 1974 – June 13, 1977

Prime Minister: Golda Meir (Alignment) & Yitzhak Rabin (Alignment)

Phase 1: Alignment wins with 51 seats.

Phase 2: Meir is nominated by 68 MKs.

Phase 3: 16th Government is confirmed by 68 MKs.

16th Government Formed:  10 March 1974 3 June 1974

Meir resigned on 11 April 1974 making the 16th Government the shortest-lived Government in Israeli history. Rabin defeated Peres 298-254 in the Central Committee to replace Meir as the Party Chair.

Meir retires – Replaced by Rabin

Phase 2: Rabin is nominated by 61 MKs.

Phase 3: 17th Government is confirmed by 61 MKs.

17th Government Term: 3 June 1974 20 June 1977

Rabin formed a narrow 61 MKs coalition, the first of its kind. The National Religious Party joined the coalition on 29 October 1974 and increased the coalition to 71 MKs. Ratz left the coalition on 6 November 1974 and the coalition dropped to 68 MKs. After the National Religious Party left the coalition on 22 December 1977 Rabin’s Government was a minority Government of 58 MKs, the first of its kind, and served as a caretaker Government until the end of the term.

 

9th Knesset

June 13, 1977 – July 20, 1981

Prime Minister: Menachem Begin (Likud)

Phase 1: Likud wins with 43 seats.

Phase 2: Begin is nominated by 62 MKs.

Phase 3: 18th Government is confirmed by 62 MKs.

18th Government Formed:  20 June 1977 5 August 1981

Begin’s coalition grew from 62 to 77 when Dash joined the government on 24 October 1977. On 14 September 1978 the coalition dropped to 69. On 23 October 1979 the coalition dropped to 68. On 10 March 1981 the coalition returned to 62 MKs for the remainder of the term. Early elections were called by the Knesset.

 

10th Knesset

July 20, 1981 – August 13, 1984

Prime Minister: Menachem Begin (Likud) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud)

Phase 1: Likud wins with 48 seats.

Phase 2: Begin is nominated by 61 MKs.

Phase 3: 19th Government is confirmed by 61 MKs.

19th Government Formed:  5 August 1981 28 August 1983

Begin’s coalition grew from 61 to 63 with the addition of Telem on 5 July 1982. On 26 July 1982 the coalition grew to 65 MKs. The coalition dropped to 64 MKs on 6 June 1983 until the end of the 19th Government. Begin resigned on 28 August 1983. Labor had grown to 50 MKs compared to Likud which had dropped to 46 MKs. On 1 September Shamir defeated David Levy and became Likud Chair. Despite Labor being the larger party, President Chaim Herzog who was from the Alignment was forced to give the mandate to Shamir first because he secured 64 MK Phase 2 nominations.

Begin retires – Replaced by Shamir

Phase 2: Shamir is nominated by 64 MKs.

Phase 3: 20th Government confirmed by 62 MKs.

20th Government Term: 10 October 1983 13 September 1984

Shamir was the first Prime Minister to serve when his party was not the largest in the Knesset. Shamir’s Government was also the first Government to have a drop off between the number of MKs who nominated him in Phase 2 and the confirmation of the Government in Phase 3. Shamir’s Government dropped from 62 to 61 MKs on 31 January 1984. The Knesset called for early elections.

 

11th Knesset

August 13, 1984 – November 21, 1988

Prime Minister: Shimon Peres (Alignment) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud)

Phase 1: Alignment wins with 44 MKs.

Phase 2: Peres nominated by 54 MKs.

Rotation Government Agreement with Peres & Shamir is nominated by 97 MKs.

Phase 3: 21st Government is confirmed by 97 MKs.

21st Government Formed: 13 September 1984 20 October 1986

For the first time no party received 61 Phase 2 nominations. Peres received the most nominations with 54 and President Herzog gave him the chance to form a government. After many failures and a long process, it was decided to form a National Unity Government that would split the term between Peres and Shamir as Prime Minister. The Peres led coalition had 97 MKs until 29 July 1986 when it dropped to 96 MKs. Peres resigned at the half-way point as agreed upon so that Shamir could form the 22nd Government.

22nd Government Term: 20 October 1986 22 December 1988

Shamir’s 22nd Government enjoyed a 96 MK coalition until Shinui left on 26 May 1987, leaving the coalition with a 93 MK majority. This was the last Knesset term where early elections were avoided, and the elections were held on time.

 

12th Knesset

November 21, 1988 – July 13, 1992

Prime Minister: Yitzhak Shamir (Likud)

Phase 1: Likud wins with 40 seats.

Phase 2: Shamir nominated by 65 MKs.

Phase 3: 23rd Government is confirmed by 97 MKs.

23rd Government Formed: 22 December 1988 11 June 1990

Shamir’s 23rd Government enjoyed a 97 MK majority until the “stinky maneuver” in which the Government fell in a no-confidence motion and the Alignment left the coalition on 15 March 1990 with just 58 MKs. The 23rd Government served as a caretaker Government until the 24th Government was formed.

Peres attempts and fails to form government.

Phase 2: Peres was nominated by 55 MKs.

Phase 2: Shamir was nominated by 61 MKs.

Phase 3: 24th Government is confirmed by 61 MKs.

24th Government Formed: 11 June 1990 13 July 1992

Peres got the first crack at forming the 24th Government when he produced the most nominations in Phase 2 following the no-confidence vote. Peres got as close as 60 MKs but failed to secure 61 MKs. Shamir was nominated by 61 MKs and was approved by 61 MKs. At the start of the 24th Government the coalition consisted of 59 MKs with the 2 Moledet MKs providing a “security blanket” in the opposition. On 2 July 1990 the coalition grew to 60 MKs. Agudat Yisrael officially joined the coalition on 19 November 1990 and the coalition increased to 64 MKs. Moledet joined the coalition on 5 February 1991 increasing the coalition to 66 MKs. On 31 December 1991 Tzomet left the Government and the coalition decreased to 64 MKs. On 21 January 1992 Techiya and Moledet left the Government and the coalition dropped to 59 MKs. The Knesset voted for early elections and the minority government served as a caretaker Government until the end of the term.

 

13th Knesset

July 13, 1992 – June 17, 1996

Prime Minister: Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) and Shimon Peres (Labor)

Phase 1: Labor wins with 44 seats.

Phase 2: Rabin nominated by 61 MKs.

Phase 3: 25th Government is confirmed by 67 MKs.

25th Government Formed: 13 July 1992 22 November 1995

Rabin’s coalition started with 62 MKs with a “security blanket” from the 5 MKs from the Arab Parties. Shas left the Government on 14 September 1993 and the coalition dropped to 56 MKs. It was the first time that a coalition had a Minority Government in the middle of a term. It survived thanks to the security blanket of the 5 opposition MKs who refused to topple the Government. Yiud split from Tzomet and joined the coalition on 2 January 1995 and the coalition increased to 59 MKs, while maintaining their security blanket of 5 MKs. On 4 November 1995 Rabin was assassinated and Peres served as interim Prime Minister until he formed the 26th Government.

Direct Elections Law Passes – Rabin assassinated – Peres takes over

26th Government Term: 22 November 1995 18 June 1996

In 1992 the Direct Elections Law removed the Phase 1-2-3 system and instituted the Direct Elections System that would be in place until 2003. Peres was selected by the cabinet to form the next Government. The coalition consisted of 58 MKs and a security blanket of 5 MKs. The coalition increased to 59 MKs on 7 March 1996 when an independent joined the coalition.

 

14th Knesset

June 17, 1996 – June 07, 1999

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Direct Elections: 50.5% Netanyahu, 49.5% Peres

27th Government Formed: 18 June 1996 6 July 1999

Netanyahu formed a coalition of 66 MKs which he maintained throughout the 27th Government. Labor was the larger party with 34 seats to Likud’s 32 seats. Netanyahu called early elections when he saw his coalition was falling apart.

 

15th Knesset

June 07, 1999 – February 17, 2003

Prime Minister: Ehud Barak (One Israel) and Ariel Sharon (Likud)

Direct Elections: Barak 56.1%, Netanyahu 43.9%

28th Government Formed: 6 July 1999 7 March 2001

Barak formed a coalition of 75 MKs that lasted until 5 September 1999 when UTJ left his coalition with 70 MKs. Yisrael B’Aliya, Shas & the National Religious Party resigned leaving his coalition with 32 MKs on 12 July 2000. Barak chose to resign as Prime Minister and have elections for Prime Minister without having elections for the Knesset. 28th Government served as caretaker Government through the election cycle and until the formation of the 29th Government.

Direct Elections: Sharon 62.4%, Barak 37.6%

Sharon defeats Barak in Direct Election Prime Minister Vote

29th Government Term: 7 March 2001 28 February 2003

Sharon formed a coalition of 80 MKs. One Israel (Labor) was the larger party with 23 seats to Likud’s 19, yet Labor still joined Sharon’s coalition. Over the course of the term the coalition went up and down. The coalition increased to 83, dropped to 81, dropped again to 74, increased to 82, dropped to 65 and increased again to 82, before dropping to 79 seats. On 2 November 2003 the coalition dropped to 53 MKs when Labor left the coalition. Sharon decided to seek early elections instead of forming a new Government.

Direct Elections are cancelled, and Israel returns to Phase 1-2-3 system

 

16th Knesset

February 17, 2003 – April 17, 2006

Prime Minister: Ariel Sharon (Likud & Kadima) and Ehud Olmert (Kadima)

Phase 1: Likud wins with 38 seats, 40 seats after Yisrael B’Aliyah merger.

Phase 2: Sharon nominated by 87 MKs.

Phase 3: 30th Government is confirmed by 68 MKs.

30th Government Formed: 28 February 2003 4 May 2006

Sharon was nominated by 87 MKs but formed a coalition with 68 MKs. Sharon relied at various points on different security nets to ensure the survival of his Government. Over the course of the term the coalition dropped to 61, dropped again to 55 and dropped even further to 40 MKs before increasing to 59, increasing again to 64 and dropping to 45 MKs. After Sharon formed Kadima, Likud dropped out of the coalition leaving the 30th Government with just 20 MKs leading to the Knesset calling for early elections. Following Sharon’s stroke on 28 February 2006 Olmert served first as acting and then interim Prime Minister in the caretaker government.

 

17th Knesset

April 17, 2006 – February 24, 2009

Prime Minister: Ehud Olmert (Kadima)

Phase 1: Kadima wins with 29 seats.

Phase 2: Olmert is nominated by 59 MKs.

Phase 3: 31st Government is confirmed by 67 MKs.

31st Government Formed: 4 May 2006 31 March 2009

Olmert’s coalition had 67 MKs until Yisrael Beitenu joined on 30 October 2006 when it increased to 78 MKs. After Yisrael Beitenu left the coalition on 18 January 2008 the coalition returned to 67 MKs. Olmert announced on 30 July 2008 that he planned to resign as Prime Minister. On 17 September Livni won her primary and was chosen to lead Kadima. On 21 September Olmert resigned as Prime Minister and the 31st Government became a caretaker Government. Livni informed President Peres on 26 October that she had failed to form a Government and that the Knesset would vote for an early election instead. Olmert remained Prime Minister until the 32nd Government was formed.

Livni fails to form Government

Phase 2: Livni is nominated by 38 MKs.

 

18th Knesset

February 24, 2009 – February 05, 2013

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Phase 1: Kadima wins with 28 seats.

Phase 2: Netanyahu is nominated by 65 MKs.

Phase 3: 32nd Government is confirmed by 74 MKs.

32nd Government Formed: 31 March 2009 18 March 2013

Livni’s Kadima won Phase 1, but Netanyahu won Phase 2 with 65 nominations. He formed a coalition of 74 MKs that dropped to 66 MKs on 17 January 2011 when Barak split Labor into two. The Independence Party went into the coalition and Labor went the opposition. On 8 May 2012 Kadima under the new leadership of Mofaz joined the Government to give the coalition a 94 MK majority, the largest coalition since 1990. On 17 July 2012 Kadima left the Government and the coalition returned to 66 MKs. In October 2012 the Knesset voted for early elections to be held in January 2013 instead of October 2013.

 

19th Knesset

February 05, 2013 – March 31, 2015

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Phase 1: Likud Beitenu wins with 31 seats.

Phase 2: Netanyahu is nominated by 82 MKs.

Phase 3: 33rd Government is confirmed by 68 MKs.

33rd Government Formed: 18 March 2013 14 May 2015

Netanyahu formed a coalition of 68 MKs. Likud and Yisrael Beitenu split during the term and by the end of term Yesh Atid’ with 19 seats was larger than Likud’s 18 seats. Netanyahu fired Lapid & Livni on 2 December 2014. After Yesh Atid & Livni’s Party left the coalition the 32nd Government was left with 43 MKs leading to an early election.

 

20th Knesset

March 31, 2015 – Present

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu

Phase 1: Likud wins with 30 seats.

Phase 2: Netanyahu is nominated by 67 MKs.

Phase 3: 34th Government is confirmed by 61 MKs.

34th Government Formed: 14 May 2015 Present

Netanyahu formed a coalition of 61 MKs, the narrowest coalition at the start of a term since 1995. The coalition grew to 67 MKs when Yisrael Beitenu joined the coalition on 25 May 2016. It dropped to 66 when Orly Levy left Yisrael Beitenu and the coalition. It dropped back to 61 MKs when Yisrael Beitenu left the coalition on 18 November 2018.

The next Knesset election is currently scheduled for 5 November 2019

Snapshot on Nov 5 2018, one year before the scheduled Nov 5 2019 Elections:

KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls

Current update: Nov 5 2018.

Notes: 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.

Party KnessetJeremy Polling Average (5 Polls of last 3 months) 2018 AVG (41 Polls) 2017 AVG (44 Polls) 2016 AVG (33 Polls) All Polls (118 Polls from 2015-2018) 2015 Election
Likud 32.4 31 25.9 25.7 27.6 30
Yesh Atid 18 20.6 22.7 20.5 21.4 11
Joint List 12.2 11.6 11.8 12.8 12 13
Zionist Union 11.6 12.4 15 13.6 13.7 24
Bayit Yehudi 10.8 10.5 12 12.2 11.5 8
UTJ 7 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.4 6
Kulanu 6.4 6.8 7.3 6.6 6.9 10
Meretz 6.2 6.5 6 6 6.2 5
Yisrael Beitenu 5.6 5.8 6.5 8.6 6.8 6
Orly Levy/Others 5.4 3.3 0.3 0 1.3 0
Shas 4.4 4.2 5.1 6.5 5.2 7
Current Right-Religious Coalition 66.6 65.6 64.5 67.1 65.6 67
Current Center-Left-Arab Opposition 53.4 54.4 55.5 52.9 54.4 53
Party 118 Poll Avg 118 Poll Placing Avg 2015 Election 2015 Placing Up/Down
Likud 27.6 1st 30 1st 0
Yesh Atid 21.4 2nd 11 4th 2
Zionist Union 13.7 3rd 24 2nd -1
Joint List 12 4th 13 3rd -1
Bayit Yehudi 11.5 5th 8 6th 1
UTJ 7.4 6th 6 9th 3
Kulanu 6.9 7th 10 5th -2
Yisrael Beitenu 6.8 8th 6 8th 0
Meretz 6.2 9th 5 10th 1
Shas 5.2 10th 7 7th -3
Others 1.3 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Current Right-Religious Coalition 65.6 n/a 67 n/a n/a
Current Center-Left-Arab Opposition 54.4 n/a 53 n/a n/a

The current KJPA is currently averaging the 5 most recent polls from the months of August, September & October 2018. It is being compared to an average of 41 polls conducted in 2018, an average of 44 polls conducted in 2017, an average of the 33 polls (32 conducted in 2016 and one 2015 poll), an average of 118 polls conducted since the 2015 election and the 2015 election results.

To provide additional context there is a 118-poll average that presents the average for the entire term in comparison to their ranking in the 2015 election. Coalition vs Opposition numbers include parties that do not pass the threshold such as Yachad, Yaalon and Zehut.

There have been 118 opinion polls released by the top polling companies to the public over the last 43 months since the last election in March 2015.

The 2016 average is of 7 Smith, 6 Panels, 5 Midgam, 5 Geocartography, 4 HaMidgam Project, 3 Maagar Mochot, 2 Teleseker & 1 202 Strategies poll.

The 2017 average is of 11 HaMidgam Project, 8 Panels, 8 Midgam, 8 Geocartography, 4 Maagar Mochot, 3 Smith, 1 Teleseker & 1 Shavkim Panorama poll.

The 2018 average is of 13 Panels, 9 Midgam, 7 HaMidgam Project, 5 Geocartography, 4 Smith and 2 Maagar Mochot poll.

On May 14, 2015, the 34th Government of the State of Israel received the confidence of the Knesset by a razor thin margin of 61-59. In that vote the 24 Zionist Union MKs voted against the appointment of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay. Following his surprise upset victory in the Labor Party primary Gabbay will now lead the faction that led the vote against the launch of his political career.

Gabbay wasn’t elected to the 20th Knesset or to any previous Knesset. He is a rookie politician with little experience. His political experience can be summarized in one sentence: He worked on the Kulanu campaign and afterwards was appointed as a non-MK minister in Netanyahu’s government. Of the three portfolios that Kulanu received in 2015, he was given the least prestigious. Gabbay was one of the least known Israeli Ministers. He was left out of the great majority of public polling that measured Israel’s top ministers. There was only one public poll that measured the public opinion of all Israeli ministers. Panels conducted it for Maariv & The Jerusalem Post, and it was published on March 18, 2016. It measured the grade of each one of the 19 ministers at the time on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how well they did their job. Gabbay finished in the middle with a tie for 9th place and a 4.9 rating.

Many people only learned who Gabbay was when he resigned as minister on May 27, 2016, in protest of Yisrael Beitenu entering the coalition. Gabbay joined the Labor Party in late December, and less than six months later has just been elected to lead it. Gabbay defeated the entire establishment and party machine of the old guard. Gabbay closed the gap of a 1,746 vote deficit with the favorite, Amir Peretz, and defeated him by 1,346 votes. Of the 52,505 eligible primary voters, 30,998 voted in the first round and that number did not drop off in the second round with 30,916. Peretz only improved from 10,141 votes in the first round to 14,734 in the second round. Gabbay almost doubled his numbers from 8,395 votes in the first round to 16,080 votes in the second round.

Now the real questions start. Does Gabbay use his reserved slot in the next election to add his friend Moshe Yaalon, who opposes a two state solution, to the party? Can Gabbay maintain the existing alliance with Livni? Will Gabbay be able to successfully sabotage possible break-off attempts by various MKs? Will Herzog agree to stay on as Opposition Leader for the entire term or will he eventually leave over a future disagreement? If Herzog is removed as Opposition Leader, who replaces him? Will Gabbay be able to work together with Peretz? Despite the bad blood between them, would Kahlon agree to join a future Gabbay coalition? Would Lapid? Are this week’s favorable snap-poll results a sign of things to come or just a temporary artificial fluke? How will Gabbay manage to do all of that with such little political experience? Those questions will take time to answer.

We can start by exploring one question that we might be able to answer: How did Gabbay win?

Democratic primaries are a beautiful thing. It is a real pity that only three of the ten Knesset lists choose their leaders through primaries. Democratic primaries are the only system where each party member has an equal say in choosing their leadership and the direction of their party. It is also an unpredictable system where the entire leadership of a party can find themselves overthrown overnight. That is the reasoning of why seven of the ten Knesset lists object to the democratic primary system. The seasoned and experienced veteran can lose to the naïve and idealistic newcomer.

Amir Peretz is the most senior member of the Israeli Knesset, first elected to the Knesset in 1988. He emerged as the first round winner. For the second round Peretz picked up the endorsements of the first round’s third and fourth place finishers. Overall MK Peretz received endorsements from 10 MKs: Isaac Herzog, Erel Margalit, Merav Michaeli, Itzik Shmuli, Hilik Bar, Nachman Shai, Manuel Trajtenberg, Revital Swid, Eitan Broshi and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin. Additionally, Peretz had the endorsements of Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Jewish National Fund Danny Atar and many other external interest groups. He was clearly the consensus establishment candidate.

Omer Barlev, who finished in fifth place in the first round, decided not to endorse either candidate. Tzipi Livni and her MKs Eyal Ben Reuven, Ksenia Svetlova, Yael Cohen Paran and Yoel Hasson did not endorse either.

Gabbay finished the first round with the backing of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a candidate who withdrew (Aviram Levin) and two MKs Michal Biran and Yossi Yonah. He picked up five MKs’ endorsements for the second round: Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel, Stav Shafir, Micky Rosenthal and Zouheir Bahloul.

Gabbay pulled out a victory despite not receiving the support of more than two thirds of the Zionist Union Faction MKs and failing to receive the endorsements of the failed first round candidates. How did Gabbay leapfrog over Peretz? Was it really his last-minute endorsements? His highest profile allies Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel and Stav Shafir spent a large portion of Election Day in the Knesset and not on the campaign trail. Was it an anti-Peretz sentiment? Most people thought Peretz was going to win.

Perhaps the answer is that Labor voters decided not to be disciplined and instead of falling in line voted against the Zionist Union that they had chosen 28 months beforehand. Perhaps the Labor voters were happy to vote for an outsider that is not responsible for the past, is perceived as a centrist, and had a mediocre 4.9 rating out of 10. Perhaps the Labor voter wanted to send a message to the entire establishment and machine that the vote was actually against them, even if that means that the vote was for someone who until recently served as a minister in the Netanyahu government they want to replace.

Perhaps the Labor party members are done with the old Labor Party that no longer represented them and that is why they voted for a new Labor Party.

 
The “KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls” is currently averaging the seven most recent polls from July 2017: https://knessetjeremy.com/knessetjeremy-polling-average-the-israeli-poll-of-polls/

I am listing the parties in order of their performance in the March 17 2015 election from highest to lowest.

Likud:

2015 Election: 30
40 Poll Avg: 25.4 (1st)
Current Avg 23.9 (2nd)
High: 31
Low: 21 (twice)

It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu six elections at the helm of Likud to achieve a quarter (30 of 120) of the Knesset’s seats. The most favorable poll of 31 seats came back in 2015. Likud hasn’t received more than 26 seats in the last 12 polls conducted over the past six months.  Although the Likud leads all parties with its overall average of all 40 public polls conducted over the last two years, it has dropped to second place in a majority of polls conducted over the last six months. The good news for Likud is that their numbers have been relatively stable, and the last time they dropped to their lowest score of 21 seats was in late September. The best piece of news for Netanyahu is that his bloc of the current coalition has been able to form the next government in 39 of the 40 polls conducted over the last two years.

Zionist Union:

2015 Election: 24
40 Poll Avg: 13.2 (3rd)
Current Avg: 11 (5th)
High: 20
Low: 8 (3 times)

Herzog’s Zionist Union is one of just two party lists not to poll above their electoral result in any of the 40 public opinion polls of the last two years. Their high of 20 was achieved back in 2015, and the list has been dropping gradually ever since. Although Herzog’s party is in third place among all 40 polls, his list has dropped to 5th place in the current average. The Zionist Union hasn’t received a poll above 13 seats since June and has received single-digit-numbers in five polls since that time. It is remarkable that Herzog might still have a fighting chance in his upcoming Labor primary considering some polls have had his list drop two-thirds of its seats to 6th place in some recent polls.

Joint List:

2015 Election: 13
40 Poll Avg: 12.8 (4th)
Current Avg: 12.7 (3rd)
High: 14 (twice)
Low: 11

The Joint List has been the most consistent. The list has achieved between 11-14 seats in all 40 polls and has produced 12 or 13 seats in 37 of those 40 polls. The Joint List’s next electoral result depends on two factors: their turnout compared to the national average and their ability to maintain the union of the four parties currently on their list.

Yesh Atid:

2015 Election: 11
40 Poll Avg: 21.4 (2nd)
Current Avg: 25.6 (1st)
High: 27 (5 times)
Low: 15

Lapid’s Yesh Atid is the only list not to have one poll drop below their electoral result in any of the 40 public opinion polls of the last two years. Yesh Atid’s lowest showing of 15 seats was back in 2015. Since that point Lapid’s party gradually increased its showing until reaching 27 seats for the first time in September. Lapid would receive 27 seats in five of the nine polls conducted between that point in September until January.  Yesh Atid’s meteoric rise has stopped since it was unable to reach 27 seats in the four polls conducted since, including a showing this month of 22 seats, their lowest since November. Yesh Atid is ranked second among the 40 poll average but has been averaging a first place finish for a majority of the last six months.

Kulanu:

2015 Election: 10
40 Poll Avg: 6.6 (9th)
Current Avg: 6.3  (10th)
High: 9 (3 times)
Low: 4

Kahlon’s Kulanu is one of just two party lists not to poll above their electoral result in any of the 40 public opinion polls of the last two years and is the only current double-digit party to not have even one poll in the double digits.  Kulanu hasn’t polled above 7 seats since July and has gradually dropped down the rankings to 9th place in the average of all 40 polls. Kulanu has dropped to last place among the current average of the polls conducted in 2017. Kahlon’s low of 4 seats is right on the electoral threshold. Kahlon’s party is simply trending down. The silver lining is that pundits are paying more attention to Zionist Union’s collapse.

Bayit Yehudi:

2015 Election: 8
40 Poll Avg: 12.1 (5th)
Current Avg: 12.4 (4th)
High: 16 (twice)
Low: 8

Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party has been trending gradually upwards since the election and has not received one poll over the last two years that would suggest it would lose any seats. The low point was a poll that suggested it would match its current showing of 8 seats back in May. Bennett’s party has been in double-digits in 36 of the 40 polls conducted since the last election. The high of 16 seats was achieved in two polls during the last summer recess in July and August. Since that point it has been averaging closer to its highest showing than to its lowest showing. Bayit Yehudi has received 13 seats in the last three polls and is currently in fourth place in the average of all 2017 polls.

Shas

2015 Election: 7
40 Poll Avg: 6.6 (8th)
Current Avg: 6.7 (8th)
High: 8 (6 times)
Low: 4 (4 times)

Arye Deri’s Shas is the second most stable party after the Joint List. Shas has received 6 or 7 seats in 30 of the last 40 polls conducted over the last two years. Shas has received its high of 8 seats more frequently than its low of 4 seats, which is on the border of the electoral threshold. The party has not polled at 5 seats during the last two years. Similar to the Joint List, the turnout of their base compared to the national average will determine their outcome in the next election.

Yisrael Beitenu:

2015 Election: 6
40 Poll Avg: 8.4 (6th)
Current Avg: 7.6 (6th)
High: 11
Low: 6

Defense Minister Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu has not received any poll that would translate into a loss of current seats. His high was in May just before he joined Netanyahu’s government, and his low was shortly thereafter in July. Overall the party has been dropping gradually since Liberman entered the government and started to present himself as more statesmanlike, but the decline has not been significant. Yisrael Beitenu remains in sixth place in both the average of all 40 polls and the current average of the 2017 polls.

UTJ:

2015 Election: 6
40 Poll Avg: 7.5 (7th)
Current Avg: 7.4 (7th)
High: 12
Low: 6 (6 times)

Litzman’s UTJ has enjoyed five double-digit polls thanks to Pollster Dagani’s Geocartographia that have been dismissed by the great majority of pundits. I have included them in the average to compensate for polls that have predicted a 6 seat showing for UTJ even in cases of a lower national election turnout. UTJ has received 7 seats in 24 of the 40 polls conducted over the last two years. Similar to the Joint List and Shas, UTJ’s electoral result will depend on the turnout of their base compared to the national turnout.

Meretz:

2015 Election: 5
40 Poll Avg: 6 (10th)
Current Avg:  6.4 (9th)
High: 9
Low: 4

The high of nine seats for Gal-on’s Meretz was the same Geocartographia poll in July that also gave UTJ their high of 12 seats. Meretz’s two showings of 8 seats were also in Geocartographia polls that produced double-digit numbers for UTJ. Meretz has received between 5-7 seats in 36 of the 40 polls conducted over the last two years. Meretz ranks last over those 40 polls and are above only Kulanu in the polls conducted in 2017. Meretz’s Central Committee rejected Gal-on’s motion last week to make Meretz the fourth Israeli party to have a primary election process for all of its members. Instead the Central Committee that includes dozens of family members of Meretz MKs supported Gal-on’s challenger for the leadership, Gilon. To quote Gal-on: “If Meretz will not open itself up, it simply will not exist”.

Current Coalition Bloc:

2015 Election: 67
40 Poll Avg: 66.5
Current Avg: 64.3
High: 72
Low: 60

The best news for Netanyahu is that his current coalition bloc of six lists has received a majority in 39 of the 40 polls conducted since the last election. Among the 40 polls his bloc drops just a half a seat. However, the gradual decline Kulanu has experienced led to an overall 1.7 seat loss for Netanyahu’s bloc among the polls conducted in 2017. The high point of 72 came in August. The low point was the 60-60 tie in the Geocartographia poll in January.

Current Opposition Bloc:

2015 Election: 53
40 Poll Avg: 53.5
Current Avg: 55.7
High: 60
Low: 48

The current opposition bloc of the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Meretz and the Joint List have gained an overall half seat in the average of all 40 polls conducted since the election, and that increases to a gain of 1.7 seats over the polls conducted in 2017. Although those numbers might be encouraging for some, they are not sufficient to form a government, and the cooperation of the Joint List for Phase 2 is luke-warm at best. The low point was obviously the six polls where the current coalition received 70 or more seats. The high point was the Geocartographia poll in January that resulted in a 60-60 tie.

 

Note: I am aware it is no longer the weekend, but the crazy week once again forced me to delay my piece to today.

Current KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls:
https://knessetjeremy.com/knessetjeremy-polling-average-the-israeli-poll-of-polls/

Today the Democratic Party is trying to find itself after Hilary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump. However, not long ago it was the Republicans that were searching for their identity after two consecutive defeats led to eight years of President Barack Obama in the White House. In Israel, it is the Labor Party that is attempting to find itself after eight consecutive years of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.

On March 23, 2015, Senator Ted Cruz became the first Republican candidate to announce his candidacy for President.  By the end of July 2015 the Republican Party had 17 major candidates running for President. Erel Margalit released his first campaign video on April 19, 2016, back when it was not known when the Labor Primary would take place. There are currently nine candidates that are expected to run, and that number may increase to the double digits before the deadline on May 1, 2017. We now know the first round will take place on July 3. After no candidate reaches 40%, the top two candidates will go head-to-head in a second round to determine the winner on July 13.

Some early polls in 2015 suggested that former nominee Mitt Romney could win the nomination, but in the end he decided to sit out the race. Early polls in the Labor race suggested that Isaac Herzog’s predecessor Shelly Yachimovich could win, but she decided to sit out this race. Romney tried to influence the Republican Primary, but it didn’t work. Yachimovich might find a similar problem.

Almost every poll showed that every Republican candidate would lose to Clinton. Today the Zionist Union faces the same situation in the polls. In the current KnessetJeremy Polling Average of the last seven polls the Zionist Union is averaging 10.4 seats. That is fifth place, behind Yesh Atid, Likud, Joint List and Bayit Yehudi. Three of the last six polls have been in single digits, a sharp drop from the 24 seats they won in the last general election. Yet, similar to the 2015 Republicans, there are no shortage of candidates ready to run for Labor’s leadership.

The incumbent Herzog will most likely face off against party veterans Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel as his main rivals. 2-term MKs Margalit and Omar Bar Lev are in the second tier, as both have been preparing for the race since the Zionist Union’s general election defeat. The third tier is made up of outside challengers Avi Gabbay, Eldad Yaniv, Amiram Levin and Yom-Tov Samia, not considered by party insiders to be candidates with a significant power base.  The rules of the game were set retroactively that whoever signed up as a party member by February 28 is eligible to vote in the primary. Discussions will take place on a merger with Livni’s Party which could allow her to become the 10th candidate if she does not get the United Nations job. Supposedly, discussions over an open-primary system will also be discussed but it is not likely that it will be adopted because it will harm the chances of the top tier candidates that currently control the party.

The next four months will be an interesting time for the Labor Party and the Israeli left. Similar to the Republicans in 2015-2016, the Israeli Labor Party of 2017 is severely splintered as they search for their new identity. With so many candidates it is difficult to predict how the race will end or who will make it to the head-to-head, but I can predict that this will be the ugliest race Labor has ever seen.

 

Moshe Yaalon and Avi Dichter have known each other for a long time. Their approach to politics has been different, and this week that played out in the same news cycle as both announced their intention to run for Prime Minister. Yaalon was named Deputy IDF COS in 1999 and was promoted to the position of IDF COS in 2002. Dichter was Deputy Director of the Shin Bet in 1999 and was named Director in 2000. Both Yaalon and Dichter served in those sensitive security positions and participated in security cabinet meetings with politicians until 2005. Yaalon clashed with Prime Minister Sharon over the disengagement and was forced to leave his position early. Dichter backed Sharon, joined Kadima, and became Olmert’s Homeland Security Minister from 2006-2009. Yaalon entered politics with Likud in 2009 and was vocally displeased when he didn’t receive the Defense Ministry from Netanyahu, despite his #8 position on the party list. During that term Dichter correctly predicted when Kadima was about to sink and jumped ship to Likud to become Home Front Defense Minister from 2012-2013. Dichter didn’t win a seat in the 2013 election but remained in the Likud and started to work on winning over the base. Yaalon became Defense Minister in 2013. Yaalon frequently quarreled with senior ministers, both inside his party and out, and had terrible relationships with his deputies Danny Danon and Eli Ben-Dahan. Instead of accepting the Foreign Affairs portfolio when Yisrael Beitenu joined the government he decided to resign from both the cabinet and the Knesset. He ignored that although it might seem like a demotion in the short term the Foreign Ministry was something that could help him ultimately become Prime Minister one day by showing a different, non-security side to him. There were 17 Likud MK candidates that ran for 12 Likud Ministerial positions at the start of the government. Not only did Dichter not receive a ministerial position at the start of the government, he is currently one of only three candidates that is still an MK and not a minister. The other two are Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and MK Benny Begin, who started out the term as a minister. Dichter took what was given to him, the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairmanship, and kept working the base.

Yaalon does not have a reputation for getting along with other high-level officials. He clashed with Sharon over the disengagement, and we now know based on the State Comptroller Report that in security cabinet meetings Yaalon clashed from time to time with Netanyahu as well. Publicly, Yaalon attacked coalition party leaders Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman during the war itself, and his criticism hasn’t stopped since. His recent leak criticizing Yair Lapid, his one potential political suiter, casts serious doubt on his political skills. Announcing a new party following the State Comptroller Report has narrowed his options at a point when there is no reason to limit them. He announced no additional candidates on his list, nor did he even present a party name so that the polls of this week could provide free branding publicity for him. Scenario polls show a new Yaalon Party earning 8-10 seats (before the report), a far cry from the “national leadership of the country” that he is running for. Center parties such as Kulanu and Yesh Atid proved that it doesn’t make sense to run for Prime Minister in a new center party during the first or even second term. Can someone who never made it above #7 in a Likud primary really be successful in the already crowded center-right?

Dichter also announced this weekend that he is running for Prime Minister. The coalition agreements allow Netanyahu to appoint 12 Likud Ministers, and he currently has one vacancy. If Netanyahu does appoint a 12th Likud Minister I expect that Dichter just improved his chances of getting it over Hotovely or Begin. Netanyahu knows that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. As a Minister Dichter will be forced to have an identical voting record to Netanyahu. Even if Dichter isn’t reappointed to the cabinet, he isn’t in a rush. He will keep using his current position and keep working the base.

Yaalon and Dichter have different approaches to politics. Time will tell who has the better future ahead of him. Historians can debate over who had the better past. Currently Dichter is making the most of the present.

Note: I am aware it is no longer the weekend, but the crazy week forced me to delay my piece to today.

 

This March Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will mark 11 years in the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu’s recent legal troubles have raised the usual question of who will lead Israel in the post-Netanyahu era. The key difference is that for the first time the polling companies have decided to move from polling various Anti-Netanyahu Scenario Polls to surveying Post-Netanyahu Scenario Polls. This is a significant shift that has provided a glimpse into what might happen when Netanyahu leaves the political stage.

On August 9, 1974 the United States President Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford took over the office of the Presidency that very day. In contrast, following months and some would even say years of controversy over a number of legal troubles, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced his resignation on July 30, 2008. Olmert remained in office until Netanyahu formed a government on March 31, 2009, over 8 months after announcing his resignation.

It is a matter of debate whether Netanyahu can weather this storm. However, over the last three terms every analysis piece written predicting Netanyahu’s impending downfall have proven to be wrong. He has always found a way to overcome his legal troubles, such as “Bar-on/Hebron” and I expect that he will find his way out of this one, too. Even if something does come out of the current legal cases, it could take months, if not years, before he actually steps down.

The reality of the 2017-2018 State Budget is that we probably won’t have an election in the next two years unless Netanyahu is forced to resign. You cannot learn everything from polls and things are always subject to change. However, it is a mistake to think they are not important because they show us the trend of public opinion. Polls are even more useful if we know how to use them correctly, by inserting them into the formula of the 3-phase-process, the road that leads to the Prime Minister’s Office. The undecided factors ahead of the next election remain, whenever that turns out to be. The key players and influencers of the 20th Knesset are among Netanyahu’s potential successors. There are various alliances, mergers and splits that are possible before that happens. An even bigger variable is that current parties will look different if they are led by a different leader into the next elections.

Israelis used to vote ideologically for political parties. This changed during the brief period of the direct election system that started in 1996. During this period Israeli citizens voted for the Prime Minister directly and the Knesset separately. The direct election system led to the personalization of choosing a Prime Minister because the candidate’s name was on the ballot. It also led to the collapse of the large parties because Israelis split their ballot and voted for medium and smaller parties to represent them in the Knesset. The return to a single ballot in 2003 did not change the personalization process, it actually enhanced it. Almost every party decided to highlight their leader at the expense of the party.

Most analysts will tell you that Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Kahlon’s Kulanu and Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu would completely collapse without their leaders and end up under the threshold. Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi, Deri’s Shas and Gal-On’s Meretz would most likely see a significant decline in seats without their leaders, and the parties would hover around the threshold. Most analysts will tell you that the only exceptions to the rule are the Likud, Zionist Union, UTJ and the Joint List. They say that these four lists have a built-in audience that will vote for these parties, regardless of their leader. I am not going to challenge that theory’s assumption on UTJ or the Joint List as long as they remain united. However, I think it is worth challenging the theory that Likud and Labor are immune to a historic collapse and that voters will vote for those parties automatically.

Labor re-branded as the Zionist Union because of bad poll numbers. The new name and the merger with Livni gave Labor new life and the much needed momentum that enabled them to gain a combined three seats in the last election. Since that point Labor has lost its momentum to Lapid. The Zionist Union’s best showing lately is in the Panels scenario poll where the list wins 15 seats with Gabi Ashkenazi as leader. That scenario is no longer possible because Ashkenazi missed the membership deadline. The situation in the party is so bad that the leading candidate, Yacimovich, is considering running for another position entirely. Other Labor MKs are considering a run for Labor Leader just to increase their public profile in hopes that they make the top ten. It is very possible, as some polls indicate, that the #10 spot in the Zionist Union is no longer a realistic spot.

Netanyahu has been the only party leader Likud has known since the formation of Kadima. It is not clear what happens after Netanyahu leaves the Likud. It is possible that the Likud collapses, and even if the scenario is less likely than Labor’s collapse, it is still possible. The probable Post-Netanyahu candidates on the right are Bennett, Liberman, Kahlon, Saar, and Yaalon. They are all former Netanyahu allies. They have an important thing in common – none of them are current Likud MKs. According to the polls the current crop of Likud MKs include a less attractive crop of candidates – Erdan, Katz and Edelstein. What that trio have going for them is that they are in Likud, the largest party, the party of the current Prime Minister. Is it possible that Likud is at risk of falling back to its 12-seat showing of 2006? In this age of personalization, it is worth asking what happens if the Israeli voter decides to shop elsewhere. The answer and new conclusion that I have come to after reviewing recent data is that when it comes specifically to Post-Netanyahu polling, looking at the top personalities is now more important than looking at the top parties.

 

Netanyahu’s legal troubles have led to Post-Netanyahu scenario polls for the first time. The results have led me to a number of interesting observations. The first observation is not much of a shock. Yair Lapid is the candidate of choice for the center-left-bloc for the next election. In ten of the last twelve polls the largest party in the Knesset has been Yesh Atid. Lapid has opened up a three-seat-gap over Netanyahu in the Knesset Jeremy Polling Average – 26.3 seats to 23.3 seats. Ever since Herzog’s failed attempt to enter Netanyahu’s coalition, it has been clear that Lapid is the candidate with more public support compared to Herzog. Lapid’s problem has consistently been that whatever he gains is only at the expense of Herzog. That is not sufficient enough for Lapid to form a coalition. A key finding in the Panels Poll is that if Netanyahu resigns and announces elections, 11% of right-wing voters chose Lapid as the most worthy to serve as Prime Minister. Lapid finished in second place overall with those 11% of right-wingers that chose him over Saar, Erdan, Katz, Yaalon and others. This is significant because Lapid’s starting point is in the double-digits, and he can try to increase that number when the Likud options consolidate around one candidate.

 

Who will the candidate on the right be? The popular answers are Erdan, Katz, Edelstein and other Likud Ministers. Other answers include candidates waiting on the sidelines like Saar and Yaalon. However, the data show us that these candidates, especially the current Likud Ministers, are just not as popular as Bennett among the right wing public. It is time we ask ourselves as analysts why we think Ministers such as Erdan or Katz are Prime Minister candidates simply based on the fact that they are Likud MKs when the data suggest otherwise. If Lapid can eclipse Labor and emerge as the candidate of the center-left, perhaps a non-Likud candidate can eclipse the Likud and emerge as the candidate of the right. Just as it is difficult to imagine Avi Gabai leading Labor to a highest showing in the center-left camp, perhaps it will be equally as difficult to imagine Yisrael Katz leading Likud to the highest showing in the right camp. It is time to explore what a possible path could look like for the leading right wing candidate in the personality polls.

Naftali Bennett’s popularity has gradually increased over the course of the term according to the polls. The comprehensive poll marking the one-year election anniversary on March 18, 2016, that surveyed various matchups found that Lapid and Bennett were the closest to Netanyahu. The current wave of Post-Netanyahu polling has produced intriguing results. In a Channel 2 poll that asked who should replace Netanyahu if he needs to resign from his position it was Bennett that finished in first place out of the list of current ministers. When asked who should be Prime Minister if elections are held, the top two answers were Lapid and Bennett.  A Jerusalem Post poll found identical results that Bennett was the preferred choice of both Bayit Yehudi and Likud voters for Prime Minister. The latest Maariv Poll is the third poll in a row this month to place Lapid and Bennett as the top two Prime Minister candidates.

The most significant part of the latest poll is the scenario poll of a Bennett-led-Likud. In this scenario Bennett’s Likud wins 29 seats and is able to form a coalition of 64 MKs with the current coalition partners. This is the first public poll that actually illustrates a clear path to the Prime Minister’s Office for Bennett. The results are particularly interesting because the Netanyahu-led-Likud received 23 seats in this poll. That means that Bennett gives Likud six additional seats compared to Netanyahu. This proves the theory that Likud voters would welcome Bennett and his positions to the Likud in a Post-Netanyahu world. This shouldn’t be a surprise since Bennett and his ally Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s minister approval ratings have been high among Likud voters. Comparing this scenario poll to the other scenario polls raises another discovery- that Bennett might be the candidate that gives the right the best chance to win.

Of course Bennett is not in the Likud, he is the leader of the Bayit Yehudi. The lesson here is that perhaps it is time we start to give more weight to the personality-based polls. As the current trend of personalization continues, voters care more about voting for the person at the head of the party than the name of the party. It is very possible that voters will vote for Bennett, regardless of his party colors. It is clear based on the data that regardless of Bennett’s current vehicle it is his name that has emerged as the preferred leader of the right in the Post-Netanyahu era.

 

In 2013 it appeared that the new politics of Lapid and Bennett would influence the Netanyahu era. Now the data suggest that the new politics of the Post-Netanyahu era, whenever that is, will be a showdown between Lapid and Bennett.

Analyzing Israeli politics is perhaps one of the most difficult analytical jobs due to its complexity and flexibility. There is a debate on what the parameters and data actually are, and the fact that the rules of the game constantly change do not help matters. The continuing education required to do the job properly includes following an extremely wide spectrum of media coverage and contacts with all ten Knesset factions. If you ignore one major media outlet or even the narrative of the smallest Knesset faction, you are missing a crucial piece of the complex puzzle, and that exposes your neglect to the Knesset insiders. It is easy to understand why most analysts focus on the past because it is the safer option, and an analyst can always rely on choosing a time period where he or she was “up to date” and “in the know”. The expectations are complicated when you are predicting the future, especially in Israel, because no date is set in stone and the process is always fluid, so you are given relatively more rope. Analyzing the present is always the trickiest and requires the most skill. It is possible that the situation being analyzed is actually a smokescreen and one must ask oneself if these situations are truly newsworthy. The colorful comment by a backbencher can become headline news while the new tax law that was passed that affects everyone is deemed not newsworthy. There are many in the press that tend to exaggerate because they need to write a new story every day, so they find new angles to the same stories, sensationalize every disagreement into a crisis and add as many descriptive catchy adjectives as possible in the rumor mill. Many politicians are happy to comply with those types of journalists and shift the public focus away from what they are really working on. The latest example is how the biannual budget passed under the radar. What makes my Weekend Perspective pieces more daring is that I often choose to analyze the past, present and future. I am due for another piece, so here you go.

Instead of looking towards the next, 21st, Knesset, in this piece I will examine the six influencers of the current, 20th, Knesset. That means political players like Gideon Saar, Moshe Yaalon and Nir Barkat will have to take a back seat. I suggest that those interested in the 21st Knesset pay attention as well because the way the following six people have influenced and continue to influence the Knesset will determine how the elections for the 21st Knesset will look.

How did I determine the six influencers?

The Knesset has 120 MKs, and each one has a certain level of influence. Every MK knows that the level of influence they have is limited by the leader of their party, and that a majority of the public does not even know the names of the other MKs on each list. Seventeen political parties are represented in the Knesset, but the public doesn’t elect parties, they elect factions, otherwise known as lists. It was the leaders of the lists who were invited to the televised debate, received fancy online graphics, were featured in all polls, and were invited by the President to nominate a Prime Minister candidate. Despite their election campaign promises, both Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni knew that the Prime Minister would be chosen among the ten faction leaders, not the seventeen party leaders. It is the leaders of the lists that sign the coalition deals that form the government. So, are the ten faction leaders the most influential? Well, they are during Phase 2 of the Prime Minister Selection process, but that changes after the government is formed. There are #2s on lists that are party leaders, such as Livni, Moshe Gafni, Ahmed Tibi, and Uri Ariel, who are quite influential as well. The difference is that a faction leader has the ability to both influence the internal Knesset agenda and set the external public agenda. Some players might have more internal influence, but the media will always give more weight to Herzog over Livni and to Naftali Bennett over Ariel. Additionally, not all ten Knesset list leaders are influencers during the course of the term. If you take a look at the media coverage there are six names that will show up in just about every news broadcast and morning newspaper. The influence of the Joint List’s Aymen Odeh or Meretz’s Zahava Gal-On is minimal both internally and externally. The influence of UTJ’s Litzman and Shas’s Aryeh Deri is more significant as leaders of lists in the coalition, but the lack of ambition to reach the highest level automatically reduces their external interest a great deal. I would make the case that Litzman and Deri wield significant influence internally, but their ranking is harmed by media shares that are less than impressive. I give external influence more weight because that is what a majority of MKs do as well. As one Likud Minister told me during the days he was a backbencher, it used to be that the press covered the Knesset; today, the Knesset covers the press.

That leaves us with six influencers – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Opposition Leader Herzog, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu is in his fourth term. His three consecutive terms have already given him the record for the longest consecutive term of any Israeli prime minister. If this government fulfills its current term that is set to expire in 2019, Netanyahu will have served for over 13 years, and will pass Ben-Gurion to become the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history. Love him or hate him, even if Netanyahu does not pass Israel’s founding father, he will likely be remembered as one of the most influential Prime Ministers that Israel has ever had. The influence of a Prime Minister is always considerable. However, it is under Netanyahu that the influence of the Prime Minister’s Office grew both in terms of number of personnel and in terms of the concentration of government authority. Netanyahu serves as a Prime Minister with more official authority than his predecessors. Additionally, over the course of the 20th Knesset he has served as minister over a number of various portfolios. Today he holds only two, he is both the Foreign Minister and the Communications Minister. Although it is still early, but based on the KJPA (KnessetJeremy Poll Average), if elections were held today his current coalition would re-elect him for a fifth term.

Isaac Herzog

Opposition Leader Herzog has been both an influential and tragic figure in the 20th Knesset. In the 2015 elections it was the Herzog-Livni duo that gave Netanyahu his toughest fight since Livni defeated Netanyahu in Phase 1 of the 2009 Knesset elections. Following the election the Zionist Union gained three seats, mostly from former Yesh Atid and Meretz voters, and Herzog started off leading an opposition to Netanyahu’s most narrow majority 61-59. This was a great field position to start in compared to Herzog’s predecessor Shelly Yacimovich, who became opposition leader in 2012 when Netanyahu enjoyed his widest coalition support of 94-26. Herzog had few successes in embarrassing the coalition considering the narrow gap. Herzog chose to blame Liberman for not falling in line with the rest of the opposition. Yacimovich, who was in a much more difficult position during her time as opposition leader, was able to find ways to cooperate with the right flank of her opposition, including Kahanist MK Michael Ben Ari, when it was necessary to influence government action. It didn’t take long for Herzog, a minister in Netanyahu’s government from 2009-2011, to start negotiating so that he could return to Netanyahu’s cabinet. Even after Netanyahu chose Liberman over Herzog, it didn’t stop Herzog from trying to enter the coalition that he was supposed to be toppling. After it became clear that Herzog wasn’t going to join the government he focused on dealing with his internal political competition by pushing off his leadership election. The last time a Labor Party Leader led his party into two consecutive elections was when Shimon Peres led the party into four straight elections in 1977, 1981, 1984 and 1988. Herzog rejoiced this week as the deadline passed to join the Labor Party in time to run for the July primary. Neither former IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi nor Benny Gantz joined the party. Yacimovich might run for the Histadrut Union Chair instead of against Herzog. Herzog feels confident that he can beat the current crop of hopefuls that include Amir Peretz, Erel Margalit, Livni, Eitan Cabel, Omer Bar-Lev, Ron Huldai, and newcomer Avi Gabai. If there are enough candidates running then Herzog has a shot at reaching the second round. In Labor primaries the first and second rounds are different ballgames, and that is Herzog’s only shot. The Zionist Union under Herzog’s leadership has dropped in the polls and is currently tied for 5th place in the KJPA with 9 seats. Opposition Leader Herzog is in the spotlight, but for the most part he has squandered it. If he is re-elected internally the end of the party could be near, and if he isn’t he will serve as the punching bag for his successor to rally up potential voters. Despite his lose-lose situation, the influence of his position requires everyone to follow him, both internally and externally. His formal position allows him to address the Knesset during the key dates on the calendar with the prime real estate of following every Prime Minister speech. His support in the Histadrut has given him key influence in the Central Committee, and that has empowered him to navigate through each one of his mistakes and scandals. The leader of any political party that has primaries is influential because of the dynamic of those choosing to challenge the leadership.

Yair Lapid

In 2013 Lapid started a party of relative nobodies and entered the Knesset with 19 seats. To me he has always seemed to be someone who wants power but is not quite sure what to do with it. He ran originally wanting to be Finance Minister, but instead requested Foreign Minister. He was convinced to take the Finance Ministry, and he made many mistakes by falling into rookie traps. He started the term with an alliance with Naftali Bennett, and finished it with an alliance with Livni. Lapid got the short-stick of the three-bill-bargain when he agreed to implement his bill far into the future, while Bennett and Liberman’s bills were implemented immediately. In 2015, Bennett ran on the record of his Basic Law: National Referendum, Liberman ran on his raising the electoral threshold, and Lapid ran on asking people to vote for him so that his sharing of the burden law would not be repealed. In his first term, Lapid had at first prioritized a government without the Haredi parties at pretty much any cost and by the end of his term was not shy from pursuing policies that led Netanyahu to fire him and call early elections. Netanyahu offered Lapid the Foreign Ministry after the 2015 elections, and Lapid rejected it. With Netanyahu also serving as Foreign Minister, Lapid has decided instead to play a Shadow Foreign Minister. Netanyahu keeps offering Lapid the portfolio that he has desired since 2013, but Lapid keeps rejecting the offer. Lapid wants to be Prime Minister, but he needs a pathway to get there. He understands that he isn’t going to be able to run for Prime Minister based on his term as Finance Minister and that he doesn’t have the military career or the necessary hawkish views to be a successful Defense Minister. That leaves Foreign Minister, but Lapid understands that his popularity is based on his opposition to Netanyahu. Serving as a Shadow Foreign Minister kills two birds with one stone. He is acting like a Foreign Minister while serving in the opposition. For Lapid Foreign Minister is just not a good enough offer anymore. He wants to run in the next election for Prime Minister, Opposition Leader or bust. Lapid has skillfully outperformed Herzog in the opposition and is viewed by many as the unofficial Opposition Leader in the Knesset. The polls view him as the true alternative to Netanyahu as well. Time is on Lapid’s side. In an average of all 33 polls since the election Yesh Atid has 20.6 seats. Yesh Atid had a 24 KJPA for October and November. Lapid’s party averaged 26 seats in December’s KJPA. Based on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s routine public remarks it is clear that he views Lapid as his true competition. Lapid’s current problem is that even with his success in today’s polls he would not be able to form a coalition because he has not been able to win right-wing voters. His future problem is that a new Labor leader could steal back some of his newest left voters. His previous #2 Shai Piron resigned because the opposition wasn’t challenging enough for him. He understands that he can’t go into the next election with his current #2 Yael German, a former Meretz Herzliya Mayor, and that the spot needs to go to a security figure. It seems doubtful that former military #1s Ashkenazi, Gantz, Yaalon or even Ehud Barak would agree to be Lapid’s #2. There are other security names on the market such as Shaul Mofaz, Dan Halutz, Matan Vilnai, Uzi Dayan or perhaps Yair Naveh, but that won’t cut it because none of them have proven that they carry any significant weight in terms of public opinion. The question remains if Lapid’s biggest challenge moving forward is the lack of a security-minded #2 necessary to crack those right-wing votes or deciding what it is he would actually do differently on a policy level if elected Prime Minister.

Moshe Kahlon

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is an enigma to many analysts. Despite his rookie backbencher status he was a leading voice in the Likud rebels group that opposed Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Kahlon would cash in on that fame and come out of nowhere to win the Likud MK primary in 2006. He would also serve as Chairman of the Likud Central Committee until his recess from Knesset in 2013. He was by far the most popular minister in Netanyahu’s second term for reducing Israeli cell phone bills. Netanyahu was so pleased with Kahlon that he gave him an additional portfolio. Kahlon held consistent right-wing positions during his ten years as a Likud MK. After a two-year-recess he returned to politics, explained that he had a feud with Netanyahu, and started his own center party. He was able to convince former IDF Major-General Yoav Galant to be his #2 and actually ran in the elections to replace Lapid as Finance Minister. As a Knesset veteran, Kahlon realized that there is no center button in the Knesset, so he branded his center party by taking relatively right views on national security and relatively left views on social issues. He made Herzog’s life difficult by publicly refusing to sit with the Joint List, which was a sound electoral decision for Kulanu. He won ten seats and received exactly what he asked for in the coalition negotiations. His main problem has been that the issues he campaigned on, such as the housing crisis and the dominance of the Israeli bank on consumers, are more complex than the cell phone industry. Kahlon has bought himself time to work on these issues thanks to the biannual budget, and the press routinely views him as the man of reason in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Kahlon’s Kulanu Party is the senior partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government, but they only have two ministers. Kahlon and Galant do not always get along with each other, and other Kulanu MKs have announced or indicated that they will not seek re-election. Even if elections are in 2019, it will be difficult to show progress on the issues on which Kahlon campaigned. It is possible that Kahlon will merge his party back into Likud or run in an alliance with Lapid. My money would be on the former. Kahlon’s biggest problem is that although the press, courts, academia and international community view his comments favorably, his voter base does not. A great deal of his voter base is unhappy with his lack of success in improving the housing market and prefers that he stick to the issues he was elected on. The key for Kahlon will not be his statements on upholding the standing of the courts. The key will be on how his results shape up when elections come around.

Avigdor Liberman

Defense Minister Liberman is exactly where he wants to be. He wants to run for Prime Minister after Netanyahu is finished, and his resume to get there is now complete. Two terms as Foreign Minister and one term as Defense Minister is not bad for a guy who entered the Knesset in 1999 as the leader of a 4-MK-list that included two parties. Liberman has had a love-hate relationship with Netanyahu. He has served as confidant, campaigner, and later the PMO’s CEO. He left to create his own party and chose to align himself with Moledet’s Rehavam Ze’evi instead of Likud. Prime Minister Sharon, to make sure he had a majority in his cabinet, would fire Liberman and Benny Elon (Ze’evi’s successor after his assassination) so that he could move forward with the disengagement. Liberman served as the senior coalition partner in Netanyahu’s second term, and the duo ran on a joint list for Netanyahu’s third term. Liberman realized that to become Defense Minister and perhaps Prime Minister he would have to become less right-wing and turn to the center. He attempted to move himself away from the right by disposing of the right flank of Yisrael Beitenu – the former leader of the Likud rebels Uzi Landau, the son of Israel’s most right-wing Prime Minister Yair Shamir, and the religious Zionist settler David Rotem. The result was that Yisrael Beitenu became the biggest loser of the last election dropping from 13 seats to six. Liberman has been a hawk internally, but has maintained a more moderate persona externally. Liberman might have the resume on paper, but the Israeli public does not seem ready to view him as a serious contender for Prime Minister. However, it would not be wise to count him out just yet, because as Defense Minister Liberman is the most senior minister in the current government. Liberman has the opposite plan of Lapid. Lapid is trying to brand himself as the alternative, while Liberman views himself as Netanyahu’s eventual successor. The key for Liberman is to use his position as Defense Minister for people to view him more seriously. He needs to promote externally the influence that he is wielding internally. That could be the difference for him.

Naftali Bennett

Bennett is serving in the typical religious Zionist role as Education Minister, but he is not your typical religious Zionist. Unlike the former NRP leader Zevulun Hammer, who served as Education Minister three times in 1977-1984, 1990-1992, and 1996-1998, Bennett more resembles a nationalist version of Abba Eban, also an “Anglo-Israeli”, who used the Education Ministry (1960-1963) as a stepping stone to become Deputy Prime Minister (1963-1966), Foreign Minister (1966-1974), and a Prime Minister contender. Netanyahu’s former COS has become Haaretz’s poster-boy for everything that is wrong with Israeli politics, and Bennett is taking full advantage of it. It was Bennett who was quoted more often than any other Israeli politician by John Kerry in his recent policy speech, implying that Bennett and people who think like him are a problem. Responding to the opposition’s no-confidence motion on Israel’s failed foreign policy, Bennett gave a 20-minute speech to the Knesset on Monday in which he quoted Friday’s Smith Poll. What some analysts might have missed is Bennett’s statement that according to the poll he actually views himself in the center of public opinion. Bennett claimed that the 39% of the Israeli public that answered that they are in favor of annexing all of the territories to Israel to create one state for two peoples are flanking him on the right. He labeled to the left of him the 30% who favor two states for two peoples, a division based on 1967 lines, and an arrangement where the Temple Mount is under Palestinian sovereignty and the Western Wall is under Israeli sovereignty. Bennett said that he represents the 31% that called for annexing the blocs and went on to describe his vision for annexing Area C. Bennett’s message was that Kerry’s assessment that the solution is an “either-or-scenario” between two states and one state is incorrect, that there is an actual viable third path forward. The question is whether the public agrees with Bennett’s narrative or Kerry’s. If the public, and perhaps the next US administration, decides to adopt Bennett’s narrative, Israel will have its first serious candidate for Prime Minister that wears a yarmulke. If it doesn’t work, Education Minister is not the worst job to fall back on.

Most internal polls are examining the public opinion of the six influencers of the 20th Knesset: Netanyahu, Herzog, Lapid, Kahlon, Liberman and Bennett. The 21st Knesset will look different, but especially after passing the biannual budget, it is time to live in the present and focus on who is influencing right now.

Note: I wrote this before the latest poll.
You can read the latest KJPA below:
https://knessetjeremy.com/knessetjeremy-polling-average-the-israeli-poll-of-polls/

Later this month the Knesset is expected to approve a biannual state budget that will all but ensure the survival of the current coalition into 2019. The question will shift to what date between January 1st and November 5th the elections for the 21st Knesset will be held in 2019.

The media and opposition are not really covering the state budget. Instead the media and opposition are covering the public broadcasting saga, the Amona Bill, the Loudspeaker Bill, the German submarines, and events such as the latest fires, and the transition from President Obama to President-Elect Trump.

The days of being able to pull a “stinky maneuver” no-confidence motion to topple a government like former President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres attempted on then Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir in 1990 are over. Over time there have been additional changes to the law to make that impossible unless there are 61 MKs that have ahead of time already come to an agreement on a Prime Minister and cabinet. Since then, the easiest way for the Knesset to topple a Prime Minister and replace a government has become the threat of the Knesset not passing the government state budget. As a direct result the state budget became headline news months ahead of time and previous opposition leaders focused their efforts on defeating it.

Last month, with 2,788 days consecutive days in office, Prime Minister Netanyahu passed Ben-Gurion’s record for the longest consecutive term as Prime Minster. As mentioned in previous Weekend Perspective pieces, Netanyahu can pass Ben-Gurion’s overall time as Prime Minister during this current term.  Although Netanyahu’s Likud is tied with Yesh Atid at 24.4 seats in the KnessetJeremy Polling Average, Netanyahu’s current coalition receives 65.7 seats compared to the current opposition that without the non-Zionist Arab parties has just 41.3 seats.

In this biannual state budget Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon are offering Shas and UTJ the most coalition money they have ever had. Shas and UTJ, therefore, have absolutely no reason to rock the boat. Kahlon, who has obviously signed off on his own state budget, is looking for an extra two years so he can push through his reforms and rebound in the polls. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has finally reached his dream ministerial job and the former Foreign Minister is interested in gaining the national defense experience he will need to run for Prime Minister someday. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett is still building up his portfolio for an eventual showdown against Liberman and Netanyahu’s Likud successor over the nationalist camp.

The press understands the political reality of Netanyahu’s strength which is why I can understand their decision to ignore for the most part the state budget in favor of the hot topics that will produce ratings and sell papers. After all, the issue of government spending and redistribution of citizens’ tax shekels is not as sexy as discussing German submarines or the Amona situation. Unlike the press, the opposition just seems tired, as if they couldn’t be bothered to even try to read the budget, let alone speak up about it.

Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition parties in the polls and is tied with the Likud for the top party in the land, is a one-man-show. The political environment within his party is a more Gush Dan upper-middle-class Ashkenazi and media savvy version of Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. The other Yesh Atid MKs jobs are to play a supporting role as a media personality based on the needs and desires of their Chairman. It is easy to build for the future when there is a known system in place and the head of the party can avoid internal elections.

Supposedly, the Zionist Union leads the opposition with 24 seats. Coalition Chairman (Chief Whip) Bitan’s job is made easy by the lack of coordination between the four opposition lists on most issues and bills. Over the last few years most of the Labor Party veterans have given up on politics and taken other jobs outside of the Knesset. 17 of Zionist Union’s 24 MKs are in their first or second terms. Many of the seven veterans are considering outside options or shortcuts to avoid tiring political primaries. Shelly Yachimovich officially announced that she is considering running for the Histadrut Labor Union instead of running against Herzog. Eitan Cabel is considering running for his old position as the Labor Party Secretary General to avoid running in another primary. Some say Amir Peretz would drop his potential bid for the Labor leadership if he is offered another reserved slot. MK Nachman Shai has reportedly considered other outside options. The two former IDF COS Ashkenazi and Gantz have avoided any direct political involvement and are not card-carrying-members. Herzog’s main opposition in the Labor leadership race next year appears to be second-term MK Erel Margalit, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai or perhaps Tzipi Livni. Labor is the only democratic party on the center-left where each member can choose their party leader, MK list, and other party institutions such as their Central Committee and local party branch leadership. Herzog is considered a weak leader, the Zionist Union is down to 11 seats in the KnessetJeremy Polling Average, yet no one strong is showing up to try their luck.

The reality of the 2017-2018 state budget that will most likely pass within the next month is that the current right-religious coalition will remain in power for at least another two years, and based on the polls beyond that as well. The Joint List and Meretz are not even pretending to offer an alternative. The Zionist Union is more interested in the Histradrut Labor Union election than their own Leadership Election next year. Meanwhile, Lapid is playing the long game, and Netanyahu is closing in on Ben-Gurion’s more significant record.

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.