The Israelis will go to the polls next Tuesday for the fourth time in two years, and Netanyahu will wage an aggressive campaign against a fragmented opposition.
Because it is important: Netanyahu’s narrow path to a 61-seat majority would require him to form a far-right government, dependent on the votes of Jewish supremacists and pro-annexation and anti-LGBT members of the Knesset. With a majority, Netanyahu could pass a law or take other steps to delay or end his corruption trial.
- He denies that this is his goal, but potential members of his coalition have announced that they would support him.
The state of the game: Current polls show Netanyahu’s bloc has 58 seats, but things could easily change in its direction on Election Day.
- Israel’s 3.25% electoral threshold means that several small parties will win around four seats or be left out completely.
- Voter fatigue, particularly on the left, also makes turnout unpredictable.
- If one or more of the three small anti-Netanyahu parties falls short, that could shift the entire balance of power and bring Netanyahu to the magic number of 61. That is a very likely scenario.
- If turnout falls between Netanyahu supporters and the far-right Religious Zionist Party fails to cross the threshold, there could be a window for a center-right government made up of Netanyahu’s opponents. That is an unlikely scenario.
- If current polls prove accurate and neither side can form a coalition, Israel will head to a fifth election in the summer. That is very possible.
The split of the opposition has made life tougher for Netanyahu in one sense: Unlike the past three cycles, he has no clear rival on the left to rally his followers against.
- Rather than a head-to-head race in which Netanyahu can repeat the “it’s us or them” argument, he has three opponents, all leading mid-size matches.
The other contenders
1. Yair Lapid and the centrist party Yesh Atid (There is a future). Lapid, a former journalist, is the current opposition leader in the Knesset.
- What to see: Lapid has not even declared that he wants to be prime minister, saying he is willing to let someone else have the job to get rid of Netanyahu. Netanyahu has focused his campaign on Lapid, but has largely failed to position him as a head-to-head competition.
- By the numbers: Yesh Atid wins around 20 seats at the polls, a distant second after Netanyahu’s Likud, which has around 30.
2. Naftali Bennett and the right-wing Yamina party (on the right). Bennett, a former tech entrepreneur, focused his campaign on COVID-19 and the economy.
- What to see: While Bennett has emphasized the need to replace Netanyahu, he has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led government. That could make him a kingmaker if the election results are not final.
- By the numbers: Yamina only gets about 12 seats, but it might be impossible to form a coalition that excludes Netanyahu without handing Bennett the prime minister’s job.
3. Gideon Sa’ar and the right-wing Nueva Esperanza party. Sa’ar, a former Minister of Education and the Interior, left Likud in an attempt to position himself as an older and less populist right-wing alternative to Netanyahu.
- By the numbers: Sa’ar’s party has fallen in the polls, from around 18 seats to nine in recent polls.
The bottom line: Only a power-sharing agreement between Lapid, Bennett and Sa’ar could produce a new Israeli government without Netanyahu. Such cooperation between the three will be very difficult to achieve.