Netanyahu Maneuvers to Make Sure He Stays in Power

Sunday, December 30, 2018 |  Ryan Jones

Early elections in Israel are set for April 9. Current polls predict an easy win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. But he isn't taking any chances.

Even if Likud were to again emerge as the largest Knesset faction (and that seems very likely), that wouldn't necessarily guarantee that the party's leader (which will almost certainly be Netanyahu, barring a major upset in party primaries) would be tapped by State President Reuven Rivlin to head the next government.

There are rumors that Rivlin, himself a member of Likud, is working behind the scenes with others in the Knesset to find a way to unseat Netanyahu, now Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

If the balance of Knesset seats were to lean just a little more toward the left of the political spectrum, Rivlin could determine that the head of another party, say Labor or the centrist Yesh Atid, would have a better chance than Netanyahu of forging a stable majority coalition.

Such an outcome suddenly seemed dangerously realistic at the weekend when the right-wing Jewish Home party split, with its two top members, current-Education Minister Naftali Bennett and current-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, announcing the formation of their own faction, The New Right.

Under the present electoral rules, parties must garner 3.25 percent of the popular vote (enough for four Knesset seats) to enter the parliament. Those that fail to reach this threshold are out, and votes for them are essentially "wasted."

Those same polls that show Netanyahu's Likud sailing to victory also show many of his right-wing and religious coalition partners losing seats to emerging centrist challengers. Coupled with the Jewish Home split, that could mean that some of those parties fail to get into the Knesset, making it less likely that Netanyahu could cobble together a viable coalition, and opening the door for his political opponents to push for someone else to lead the nation.

For that very reason, Netanyahu's government was expected on Sunday to recommend lowering the electoral threshold ahead of the upcoming election. While this seems very self-serving on the part of the current government, it's a move that's likely to gain the support of nearly all Knesset parties, from right-to-left.

In fact, it was Netanyahu who successfully raised the electoral threshold prior to the last election in a bid to push out the Arab and far-left parties. The maneuver failed when the Arab factions merged into the Joint List. But lowering the threshold would allow them to again run on separate tickets, as well as throw a life-line to some of the smaller centrist and left-wing factions that often struggle to maintain a foothold in the Knesset.

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