Category: Weekend Perspective


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.

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

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

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

Criteria

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

  1. Gilad Erdan. Likud’s current #2.

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

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

  1. Gideon Saar. The outsider Likud candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The media loves “what if” polls a lot more than polls that measure public opinion of the current parties. It is understandable because they probably sell a lot more papers, increase the traffic on their sites, and boost television and radio ratings that way. The rumor mill will always focus on the “what if” because it is a whole lot sexier than talking about the same players in the current configuration over and over again.

Sometimes theses scenario polls can be used to promote various individuals’ political stock and increase their asking price in the pick-a-new-MK Knesset market. Other times they can be used to try to shift public opinion to the direction that the chances of Netanyahu going home have suddenly increased overnight.

The problem is that these scenario polls are almost always inaccurate, either because the number of egos in one ticket would be impossible, or because the personalities have not yet entered the political stage and therefore have not been properly vetted by the public and their peers. Another issue is that the polls might provide encouraging results to win an election in Phase 1, yet provide no path forward for the nomination of forming a government in Phase 2 or enough votes to approve a coalition government in Phase 3. You can ask Tzipi Livni, who defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 Knesset Elections, how that Phase 1 victory worked out for her.

The latest scenario polls are measuring the performance of a list including any combination of former Netanyhau #2 Gidon Saar, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, former IDF COS Gabi Ashkenazi and/or Benny Gantz, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, renegade Yisrael Beitenu MK Orly Levy, and – the latest in private polling – former Environment Minister Avi Gabai. Most variations of the list come out even or ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.

The latest political developments have altered public opinion, and it will take some time before we can assess what the long term implications are. Snap polls are useful, but they are not always indicative of the future.

 

Over the last seven years the polling companies have conducted hundreds of scenario polls, public and private, which indicated public opinion could be manipulated in a particular way to finally defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu if a particular formula was used.

The most common scenario poll in December 2014, a month before the deadline of submitting the lists to the Central Election Committee for the March 2015 elections, was a Lapid-Kahlon joint ticket. TRI polled Lapid-Kahlon at 21 to Likud’s 20, Panels polled Lapid-Kahlon at 22 to Likud’s 20, and Dialog had Lapid-Kahlon at 24 to Likud’s 21. The grapevine, at the time, said talks of that joint list ended when Kahlon decided he wasn’t interested in being Lapid’s #2 and went off to negotiate a joint ticket with Likud, which Kahlon would ultimately also reject to go off on his own.

Other popular December 2014 scenario polls included previous combinations of what would become the Zionist Union. A Panels poll predicted a Labor-Livni-Mofaz-Trachtenberg ticket would win 35 seats compared to Likud’s 21. A Dialog poll of a Labor-Livni-Mofaz joint ticket would win 22 seats to Likud’s 20. Herzog decided to go with Livni and Trachtenberg but passed on Mofaz. The Zionist Union went into the election with 21 seats and received 24 seats, an increase of just three.

Leading up to the 2013 election there was a wide range of scenario polls. Among the most popular was an August 2011 Smith Poll in which a new Social Economic Party led by protest leaders Itzick Shmueli and Stav Shapir was predicted to come out of nowhere to win 20 seats to Likud’s 22. Labor’s leader at the time, Shelly Yacimovich, was able to persuade Shmueli to join Labor. Shapir weighed an offer from Lapid before also going with Yacimovich. An October 2012 Dialog poll gave 25 seats to a new “Super Kadima” led by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Lapid to Likud’s 24. There was also a January 2012 Dahaf Poll with Lapid leading Kadima to 29 seats compared to the Likud’s 27. Various meetings with a combination of Olmert, Livni, Lapid, Yacimovich, Mofaz and Zahava Gal-On led nowhere. Supposedly Livni rejected an offer from Olmert to be his #2 and started her own party. Olmert responded with endorsing Kadima. Kadima split into pieces and dropped from being the largest party in Knesset with 28 seats to 2.

Scenarios polling on new parties have shown mixed results. For most of 2010-2012 Lapid enjoyed polling numbers in the early 20s and high teens, and Yesh Atid eventually finished with 19 seats in the 2013 election. For most of 2012 to 2014 a new Kahlon party was polling from 13-19 seats.  Kulanu would win ten seats in 2015. A new Deri party aligned with the left was predicted to win double digits but never came to fruition.

I do believe that a joint list of Saar, Yaalon, Ashkenazi , Gantz, Huldai, Kahlon, Levy and Gabai would win the next election. I just don’t see that many egos fitting into one list. I’m also not sure the number of portfolios that would need to be distributed internally to create such a list would leave enough room to build a coalition government with additional partners. The only thing in common with the group is that most of them would prefer to see someone other than Netanyahu, preferably themselves, as Prime Minister. The above group has a wide spectrum of opinions on the issues of the day.

If Olmert, Livni, Mofaz, Yacimovich and Lapid, who had more in common with each other than the current group of scenario candidates, couldn’t join together why should we believe that this current group that is more divided in their opinions will be able to?

 

Former MK Haim Ramon, the architect of Kadima, tried for years to create a centrist super-party and was smart enough to stay out of the failed Center Party of 1999. Itzik Mordechai, who was Netanyahu’s first #2 in the Likud, created a party with former IDF COS Amnon  Shahak; Dan Meridor, another disgruntled liberal Likud Minister who viewed himself as Prime Minister material; and former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo.

Does a scenario of a former Likud #2, former COS, an additional former Likud leading Minister, and a big-city-mayor sound familiar? The initial polls looked promising and it looked like Mordechai might be Israel’s next Prime Minister. On Election Day they won just six seats.

Ramon believed the key to creating a real super-party is a sitting Prime Minister. When Prime Minister Sharon formed Kadima in 2005 he had support from many Likud ministers, top Labor figures, an MK from Yisrael Beitenu, a former Yisrael B’Aliyah MK, a former Shas MK, and unofficial help from a renegade Shinui MK.

Kadima lasted longer than the previous attempts at creating a new list because it had all shades of the spectrum and politicians at all levels of the ladder with a Prime Minister in office. The opposition is a difficult place to be for a party that is based on personality and minister appointments over ideology and parliamentary work. Kadima fell apart when Livni, who had lost the previous primary, decided to cause serious issues for Mofaz, the person who defeated her, that eventually led to a split in the party. After the Livni split other Kadima MKs started to seek refuge elsewhere and the party collapsed as many MKs returned to their previous parties.

It is much easier to get a lot of egos into a room when you are the Prime Minister and everyone in the room is willing to help you remain there in exchange for a piece of the pie. It is easier to rationalize not running for #1 when you are working with the current #1. It is a much more difficult task to ask a Prime Minister candidate to endorse a different challenger in return for the same job they used to have when they were working with the incumbent #1.

 

So don’t get too excited the next time a scenario poll comes out. Chances are the people who are being grouped with each other will not agree to run on the same list, and the new personalities on the joint list will lose some appeal after they are properly vetted by their other opponents and the press.

The real key towards determining the next Prime Minister is the proven Knesset Jeremy formula of Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3.

KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls

Likud 26.7, Yesh Atid 19.9, Zionist Union 13.1, Joint List 12.9, Bayit Yehudi 11.3

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The curious case of Yair Golan has just begun.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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