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December 13, 2020 4:09 am

The Imminent Collapse of Israel’s Center-Left Bloc

avatar by Ori Wertman


A general view shows the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, May 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The Israeli political system is once again at a boiling point. If there are no surprises, in mid-March 2021 elections will be held in Israel for the fourth time in less than two years. Once again, as was the case in the previous three election campaigns, the main question will be whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue in office, where he has been serving continuously since 2009.

In all three recent elections, attempts to oust Netanyahu from the prime minister’s chair have ended in utter defeat. The center-left bloc, the only government alternative so far for Netanyahu, has repeatedly failed in its mission to win the election. Yet the expected outcome was known in advance to those who knew how to make a simple political calculation. In fact, there was no real chance that the center-left bloc would win a majority of 61 MKs. One of the main reasons has to do with the inability of the center-left camp to cooperate and form a government with the Arab parties, whether they are united in one list as in the last election or whether they run separately.

In practice, the Arab parties are no longer part of the center-left bloc. Whereas the 1992 elections, when the Arab parties had five seats and the center-left bloc then enjoyed the support of Israeli Arabs considerably, in the 2020 elections almost all Arab voters supported the Joint List. For comparison, while in the 1992 elections the center-left bloc enjoyed the support of 30% of all Arab voters, in the 2020 elections the parties of the center-left bloc won 8% of the votes of the Arab public. In this context, while in the 1992 elections 48% of Arabs voted for Arab parties, in the 2020 elections this figure jumped to 88%.

It seems that the desire of the center-left bloc’s leaders to be portrayed at the center of the political spectrum hurt them electorally. Thus, their endeavors to challenge Netanyahu and the right-wing and thus win soft right-wing voters, caused them to take another step away from the Israeli Arab public, which in turn has chosen to abandon the center-left Zionist parties. Eventually, it seems that Arab voters abandonment of the Zionist center-left parties has contributed to the weakening of the center-left bloc, which shrank from 55 seats in the 1992 election to only 40 in the 2020 election.

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These facts lead to only one conclusion. The road to the end of the Netanyahu era does not pass through the left, but can only be fulfilled on the right side of the Israeli political spectrum. Only a big bang in the right-wing bloc could bring an end to Netanyahu’s rule.

It seems that the establishment of a new right-wing party led by Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s sworn rival who left the Likud, may make this vision a reality. At the moment, Sa’ar’s new right-wing party, New Hope, symbolizes the post left-wing era in Israeli politics. According to recent polls, the three largest parties in the next Knesset are expected to be right-wing parties (Likud led by Netanyahu 26 seats, Yamina led by Bennett 18, and New Hope led by Sa’ar 16). Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid-Telem, the largest party in the center-left bloc, is expected to finish fourth with only 15 seats. In addition, polls indicate that Sa’ar’s new party manages to take votes from the two political blocs, mostly at the expense of Likud (4 seats), Yamina (3), Blue and White (4), and Yesh Atid-Telem (2). In this scenario, the center-left bloc (without the Joint List) shrinks even further to only 27 seats, while the right-wing bloc rises to a record figure of 83 seats! It is not inconceivable that this trend will continue and that both Blue and White and leftist Meretz may end up like the Labor Party and not pass the threshold in the upcoming 2021 elections.

In conclusion, the center-left bloc is facing an inevitable crash. There seems to be only one way to save the center-left camp from oblivion: All bloc parties must put their political egos aside and unite around a leader who will not be afraid to talk about striving for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and for the fulfillment of a secular-liberal agenda for the State of Israel. Only through this path will the center-left bloc constitute a governmental alternative to the right.

Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, UK and an Adjunct Researcher at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa. He was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.

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