Netanyahu to Face Small Parties Upsurge in Tuesday Elections - Analysts

MOSCOW (Sputnik) Valentina Shvartsman - As Israeli voters are heading to cast their ballots in the general elections on Tuesday, the political future of the Jewish state remains unclear with the latest surveys showing a neck-and-neck struggle between Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and ex-army chief Benny Gantz's Blue and White alliance.

No party in the Israeli political history has ever won a majority of seats in the 120-seat Knesset with the country being run by coalition governments, and the upcoming elections will hardly become an exception. According to the Channel 13’s poll released on Friday, the Likud party and the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) political alliance are projected to win 28 seats each, meaning that both parties will have to unite with smaller parties to secure the majority in the parliament.

Small Parties Focus

Moran Stern, a lecturer at Georgetown University's program for Jewish civilization, told Sputnik that whereas neck-and-neck competition was common for the Israeli politics, the most interesting part of the recent polls was the projected large proportion of the smaller parties in the future Knesset.

"The most interesting thing is actually not only the close competition, because in the past we had close competition between the two leading parties, but rather disproportional power of the smaller parties", he said.

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The expert pointed out that the tighter the race was between the two leading parties and the more smaller parties succeed in crossing the 3.5-percent threshold and secured seats in the future government, the more the bigger parties would be dependent on them.

"And what you see now is that a relatively large number of these parties is actually doing pretty well. So you will have this scenario, in which parties [that will secure] between only four to seven seats out of 120 seats of the Israeli parliament will be able to exert a lot of leverage over the large parties. And I think this is what is going to determine the end-game — where these small parties and sometimes even one single party decides to go in case we have very close rates", Stern stressed.

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Despite numerous attempts by opinion polls, think tanks and experts to forecast who will succeed in forming a coalition government, it is still hard to say what the outcome will be, Dr. Israel Sergio Waismel-Manor, the chair of the Division of Governance and Political Theory at the University of Haifa, told Sputnik.

"It is really hard to tell how the members of other parties will play along once they see the results. Except for, perhaps, two parties on the right that really committed to Netanyahu, the rest of the parties may show some flexibility if Gantz and the Blue-White party get enough votes […] For now it is like trying to predict the weather in three weeks, it is really impossible", the expert said.

Wooing Effort

Stern also warned against jumping into conclusions regarding the possible outcome of the coalition talks, even though Netanyahu had better relations and matching views with most smaller parties.

"I believe that the most important thing is first of all win elections, because when you win elections cards are being reshuffled. In other words, smaller political parties that say now, before the election that they would not join your coalition will join your coalition [after the results of the election are out] […] The task would be for Gantz and also Netanyahu to win the elections and do it in the largest margin possible because the more seats each party will receive — either Likud or Blue and White — the less prone or susceptible they will be to pressure from the smaller parties", the expert explained.

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Both Netanyahu and Gantz will try to lure smaller parties in their respective camps through offering positions in the government and promising certain legislative initiatives, Waismel-Manor pointed out.

"At this stage, all the centrist parties, perhaps, you can say all the parties are kingmakers except for Likud and Blue-White — they are the ones who need to cater to the needs and demands of all the small parties. Even the parties with four seats [would] have the ability to filibuster or to block the creation of the coalition", he said.

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The expert pointed out to the far-right libertarian Zehut party, which is projected to win 5-7 seats and whose chairman Moshe Feiglin expressed readiness for talks with both Netanyahu and Gantz, as example of a small party that may have a significant leverage in the future coalition negotiations. The party, in particular, calls for the establishment of the third Jewish temple on the holy site in Jerusalem as well as legalization of marijuana.

"They [Netanyahu and Gantz] are going to have to promise that party, probably, not building the third temple, but — out of the question — the legalization of marijuana is definitely going to be there", he said.

According Stern, other possible kingmakers might also include centrist Kulanu party and even the orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties.

Palestine Issue

In the run-up to the fateful vote, Netanyahu also pledged that he would extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, adding that he would never allow the creation of the Palestinian state in the way that the international community viewed it. The last-minute announcement could be seen as an attempt to sway votes of smaller right-wing parties, Stern noted.

"This has been done, I believe, in order to draw more right-wing voters that would have otherwise voted for even more far-right political parties into his camp. I think that Netanyahu is changing strategy and trying to draw as many voters as possible into Likud as opposed to the general right-wing camp", the expert said.

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The Blue and White alliance was formed in late February by Gantz and journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid in late February in a bid to defeat the ruling Likud party led by Netanyahu. The two politicians also said that they would rotate as prime minister if they win — Gantz would head the government for the first two years and a half, with Lapid taking over the office afterwards.

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Apart from Gantz, who is seen as Netanyahu’s strongest competitor over the past years, the incumbent prime minister is also challenged by corruption allegations. The charges are linked to three separate cases and range from corruption to fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu stands accused of lobbying for Israel's telecom giant Bezeq and promising one of the largest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, to deal with its rival in return for favorable coverage, as well as receiving gifts worth nearly $300,000 from businessmen.

If re-elected for the fifth term, Netanyahu will become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history surpassing the Jewish state’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.