The first possible merger is Yamina and New Hope. * A second possible merger is between New Hope and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.
https://www.jpost.com-By ELIAV BREUER
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attend a preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, in Jerusalem, June 22, 2022.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
According to polls conducted since the elections were announced last Monday, five out of the eight coalition parties are flirting with the election threshold: Yamina, New Hope, Labor, Meretz and Ra’am.
The most probable date for the elections is November 1. Assuming that is the date, the party lists must be handed in to the election committee by law no later than September 15, nearly three months from now.
There are a number of possibilities as to which parties will run independently and which may merge.
The first possible merger is Yamina and New Hope. New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar announced on Sunday that his party will run alone. However, as a seasoned politician he will not risk falling beneath the threshold, which leaves open the option of a future merger.
The two parties are natural ideological partners. They both oppose the two-state solution and place reforming the legal system high on their agenda. Many of both parties’ electorate in the last election were Likud voters who did not want then-caretaker prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm. Both are currently led by longtime education ministers under Netanyahu (New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar from 2009-2013 and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett from 2015-2019). In case of a merger, the two parties could set up their list in a “zipper” alignment, with each MK followed by an MK from the other party, with the first spot going to whoever is polling higher.
However, the two parties have one major policy difference. Bennett and longtime partner Ayelet Shaked do not rule out sitting under Netanyahu, while Sa’ar flatly refuses to do so and denied reports he had held secret negotiations with the Likud in recent weeks. Sa’ar and his party’s other ex-Likud members believe Netanyahu to be corrupt; preventing him from returning to power is an important part of their agenda. Yamina’s campaigns, however, have not focused on Netanyahu’s legal status but on his national security and economic policies, arguing that he is no longer the appropriate leader.
In any case, it is not yet clear whether Bennett will run as the leader of Yamina. Shaked was more vocal than Bennett about not opposing a Netanyahu-led government. If she takes over the party and Yamina continues to poll near the election threshold, there is a fair chance that she would choose to merge with Likud or Religious Zionism rather than with New Hope.
A second possible merger is between New Hope and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. Both Sa’ar and Gantz explicitly said they will run alone, but the two leaders’ interests line up. New Hope is perhaps most in danger of falling below the electoral threshold. By merging with Blue and White it would join a party that has consistently polled at or around eight mandates.
What could Gantz gain?
WHILE NEW HOPE will have little leverage over how many of its members it will be able to push into the top 10, it could prove valuable for Gantz in three different ways.
First, it may push Gantz over the 10-mandate threshold and turn Blue and White into the third-largest party after Likud and Yesh Atid. This will give Gantz leverage in coalition negotiations and may even enable him to present himself in his campaign as a third option for prime minister after Netanyahu and Yair Lapid.
Second, by adding New Hope, Gantz may be able to attract right-wing voters who do not want to vote Likud but are planning to so that Lapid does not become prime minister. They will be able to swallow a Gantz-led right-wing government, and perhaps even a Gantz-led unity government.
Third, a merger between New Hope and Blue and White may suck the life out of what remains of Yamina, with or without Bennett. Together they could try to counter the Likud’s offers to Yamina and bring it in either as a “technical bloc” – which means that the parties will operate independently after the elections – or as a unified list. While realistically a long shot, a Gantz-Sa’ar-Bennett merger may create a new political force in the Center-Right.
On the Left, Labor and Meretz may eventually decide to merge. This is not as complicated a decision. Labor under Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli shifted slightly to the left and there are not many major ideological differences between them. Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz promoted a merger with Labor last week, saying that there should only be one Zionist left-wing party. Labor head Merav Michaeli, however, said that Labor would run alone. Both declarations match each parties’ current poll results, as Meretz is near the threshold while Labor is in the 5-6 mandate range.
Both parties will hold primaries, Labor on July 18 and Meretz on an unknown date. Following the primaries and as the September 15 deadline approaches, if either of them remain near the threshold there is a good chance they will merge. A similar merger occurred in the 2019 elections to the 22nd Knesset when Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and the Green Party formed the Democratic Camp, and in the March 2020 elections to the 23rd Knesset, along with now-Likud MK Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher Party. Whoever is polling higher at the time of the merger will be able to force the other to make concessions regarding the list’s actual makeup.