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January 2, 2019 9:20 am

The ‘BBB Elections’: Act One

avatar by Yisrael Medad / JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Dec. 24, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen / File.

JNS.orgIsraelis and all those physically present in Israel (except for a very small group of privileged citizens) will be going to the polls on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 to elect the 22nd Knesset. The elections announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the current Knesset’s dissolution was a bit of a surprise.

The tendency was to suggest that Netanyahu wanted to preempt any negative result from several police investigations, hoping that the Attorney General would not announce any submissions of a charge prior to the electoral process. There was the opinion that with no war between Israel and Hamas — showing him not to be the war-monger that he is portrayed as — and with huge diplomatic successes (such as the US embassy move), Netanyahu was riding a wave of unmatched popularity. Plus, there had been is no real opponent, especially with the Zionist Union showing downward poll results and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party remaining static.

Still, these elections are not the “Bibi Elections.” They appear to be the “BBB Elections.”

The first “B” is, of course, for Bibi. The second is for Benny Gantz.

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Despite the failures of middle-of-the-road “savior” parties — Dash of 1977, HaMerkaz of 1999, Kadima of 2006 — former IDF Chief of Staff Gantz has established the Hosen LeYisrael Party (mistranslated as “Resilience”) as an across-the-board, everything-in-the-pot, political home for right-leaning centrists.

The first casualty of this move is Lapid. For months, he has been courting a rightist image on issues of security and anti-BDS concerns. Now comes a former general, while Lapid, due to medical reasons, had to move from the IDF armored corps to being a military correspondent. Gantz’s votes can also reduce some of those going to the Likud. In Israel’s parliamentary system, coalitions are required to obtain a majority in the Knesset. Gantz could be the kingmaker, limiting Netanyahu’s ability to form the government he wants.

The third “B” is for Naftali Bennett. The bombshell that he and his partner-in-politics Ayelet Shaked dropped this past Saturday evening was stunning, at least in its unexpectedness. Bennett has left the old Mizrachi-NRP camp, and chucked them off as too extreme; instead, he has set off into uncharted waters. Does he really think, despite Gantz’s move and Lapid, that there are enough votes in the middle to share? Does he presume some of the hard right will follow him? Will the hard right coalesce, finally, into a strong presence, for the first time since Tehiyah more than a quarter century ago? Will he join Likud before or after the elections? Will he reunite with his old home, the Jewish Home Party, after election day to maximize their coalition strength?

I admit, there are too many questions and too few solid answers. But that is what makes Israeli politics so fascinating and so exciting.

Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and commentator.

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