Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s gamble to call a March election may be the riskiest decision he has made in his political career so far. The polls so far have been close for the current Prime Minister as the Walla news site discovered in December that 38 percent of people believe that Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, is better suited to be Prime Minister, while 37 percent say Netanyahu is better for the role.
In a devastating blow to the Likud Party before the March poll, 41 percent of respondents blame the Prime Minister for the reasons why a third election has been called, whilst only 6 percent blame Gantz.
Furthermore, on Monday the Blue and White Party succeeded in voting to form a committee that will debate, and is widely expected to reject, his request for parliamentary immunity. Politicians in the Arrangements Committee voted 16 to 5 in favour of establishing and staffing the crucial House Committee, which will see the Prime Minister’s supporters outnumbered by his opponents on the panel.
The panel is an opportunity for the Blue and White Party to debate and reject Netanyahu’s request within three weeks, with time to spare before the March 2nd election. Likud sources told The Times of Israel that they will attempt to delay the process by tying it up in court and with other obstacles, hoping to push it past March 2nd, which is when a new Knesset will be voted in.
But the Likud Party may find that their electoral fortunes, and their leader’s chances of surviving impeachment, have been slightly thwarted. Labor Leader Amir Peretz and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz have reached an agreement to run together in the March election. This will have an impact on the upcoming poll and could benefit Gantz more than his rival.
Neither Labor nor Meretz will drop below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold. If neither party failed to gain enough votes to make it into the Knesset, more than 100,000 left-wing ballots would have been wasted. This would have made it almost impossible for the Blue and White Party to form a government.
The reason why this provides Gantz with a substantial electoral advantage is because he no longer has to worry about stealing votes away from the left to win more seats than Likud.
Netanyahu will have to work harder to defeat Gantz and push for unity on the right. That could mean Defence Minister Naftali Bennett and far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir finding a way to temporarily coexist in one party. If both leaders do collaborate, the Prime Minister has a chance of surviving this poll. But until they do, this is a significant blow for Likud.
Peretz and Horowitz both took a calculated risk by making a deal, because they know their respective parties will end up with fewer MKs for their parties in the next Knesset. However, their top priority is ensuring Netanyahu does not form the next government. This moment will be remembered as a turning point in Israel’s third election in less than a year.
If the Labor-Meretz deal results in a Blue and White-led government, Netanyahu’s immunity will be lifted as Gantz’s primary motivation is to ensure he is impeached. Likud will no longer have the numbers to delay this process. If the House Committee votes to lift the Likud Leader’s immunity before that, his chances of surviving are even slimmer.
If the Prime Minister hopes to survive impeachment, Bennett and Ben-Gvir need to form a deal to unite the right-wing vote. Netanyahu is a remarkable political survivor and he could find a way to escape this process, or his luck may have just ran out this time.