Could Herzog haul Labour back to top?

November 24, 2016 23:22

Israel's Labour Party has rarely seen such a demonstration of unity in recent years.

For an hour on Sunday evening, those sitting on the party's central committee hid their reservations over the agreement party leader Yitzhak Herzog had reached with former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

They did not mention the way he was giving her tiny party, Hatnuah, precious spots on their crowded Knesset candidates list. And there was not a peep about his promise that in case of victory, she would serve as prime minister for the second half of the term, an unprecedented concession prior to elections.

Instead, they all cheered as Mr Herzog cried from the podium "mahapach, mahapach, mahapach" (literally "turnaround", the Hebrew term for a change in government), and a unanimous show of hands approved the Labour-Hatnuah deal.

Many of the delegates were over 70 and remember the days when Labour was the dominant force in Israeli politics. But decades of disappointment have conditioned them to the fact that, in order to have any chance of forming a coalition, their party has to enter uncomfortable partnerships. Even before the elections are held.

Livni deal may give him a fighting chance

That was what Benjamin Netanyahu did two years ago, linking up with Yisrael Beiteinu to ensure his re-election. Ehud Barak, the last Labour prime minister, did it in 1999 when he ran with the now defunct Meimad and Gesher parties.

The polls so far show Labour running even with Likud, indicating that the Herzog-Livni partnership is giving the party at least a fighting chance.

But the ultimate winner will be decided by the success of other partnerships as well. Mr Netanyahu has entered non-aggression pact with his main rival, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett. Together, they will command a strong right-wing bloc, but will still need additional parties for a coalition, and elsewhere the political landscape has yet to coalesce.

Mr Netanyahu's former finance minister, Yair Lapid - last election's meteor - is now looking at winning a single-digit number of seats for his party, Yesh Atid. So is Avigdor Lieberman, who is still the foreign minister, but a fierce opponent of the prime minister.

Both are now vying for the favours of Moshe Kahlon, whose new party, Kulanu, is on the rise.

The three party leaders are all openly attacking Mr Netanyahu, but none of them can rule out serving in his next government. A Kahlon-Lapid-Lieberman partnership would create a strong bloc that would conceivably dictate the identity of the next prime minister - an outcome Mr Netanyahu fears.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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