As Israelis prepare to go to the polls next week, one man has emerged as the one who will reshape the government. It isn’t Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. It isn’t Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party. It’s Avigdor Lieberman, the former Israeli Defense and Foreign Minister who leads the Yisrael Beitenu Party.
Despite his party being much smaller than the two giants (Likud and Blue and White tied with 35 Knesset seats in April’s election compared to Yisrael Beitenu’s 5), Lieberman holds all the cards. Neither large party is projected to have enough sears to form a coalition government without Yisrael Beitenu just as Netanyahu needed their five seats in April. This election, polls indicate Lieberman’s party could hold as many as 11 seats, making any government practically impossible without their support.
This puts both Gantz and Netanyahu in precarious positions. Lieberman’s main policy points against Likud is their appeasement of the ultra-orthodox population that currently gets special privileges such as not having to serve in the military like all other Jewish Israelis. Lieberman is pushing hard against Judaism playing such a prominent role in political decisions, preferring secular solutions to the nation’s problems.
Likud has maintained power by forming conservative coalition governments, but if they win again as they did in April, Lieberman will likely force them to abandon a coalition with the far-right and add his centrist nationalist party as well as center-left Blue and White to the mix. This would pull the government to the center even with Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
But this doesn’t make for good news for Blue and White, either, as even with Yisrael Beitenu’s support, they would likely be unable to form a coalition government without Likud. One way or the other, Yisrael Beitenu will force the conservative, religious parties to lose power outside of the Knesset.
The only way for this to not happen is if Israelis give Likud and their conservative allies enough seats to not need Lieberman’s support. This is very unlikely. If Likud pulls off another victory, they will likely find their conservative wing diminished from where it was in April. Assuming that’s the case, Netanyahu would have to make concessions to Lieberman, concessions that will prohibit the far-right parties from participating in the coalition.
In other words, Netanyahu may not change, but his ability to continue enacting conservative policies will be decimated. He’ll be forced to withdraw protections for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The most likely scenario has the two biggest parties working together to form a government with right-leaning parties and perhaps a couple of left-leaning small ones to fill out the 61 seats necessary to form a government.
The role of Prime Minister may be a battle between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, but the man who will determine the political fate of Israel is Avigdor Lieberman. Israel’s government hasn’t been in this much turmoil since their founding.
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