It is clear to any objective observer that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, for almost a decade, been in control of all things related to the timing and results of Israeli General Elections, as well as the composition of the usual resulting coalition governments. Regardless of how the composition changes, it will inevitably be under his leadership.
Since the then Israeli President, Shimon Peres, tasked him in March 2009 to form the 32nd government, after what was the largest political party, Kadima, failed to do so under the leadership of Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu has monopolised the dissolution and forming of Israel’s governments. He has had little, if any, competition from within his own party, Likud, or its rivals.
The 32nd government, which was Netanyahu’s second, lasted from March 2009 to the end of 2012, when he announced his support for early elections for the 19th Knesset (parliament). He then formed his third government in March 2013, in which he was not only Prime Minister, but also Foreign Minister for a few months before handing the latter portfolio to far-right extremist Avigdor Lieberman.
On 2 December, 2014, Netanyahu created a coalition crisis and dismissed Livni as Justice Minister, as well as the Finance Minister and head of the Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid. Once again, it was Netanyahu who decided when his government would end and when the election would be held.
His current government, his fourth, took power in May 2015 with 61 members of Knesset. It then expanded to 66 members after Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Lieberman, who replaced Moshe Ya’alon as Defence Minister, joined the Knesset.
In his three successive governments, Netanyahu has ensured that the dates of the elections and the composition of the next government all serve his personal agenda. Less than two months ago he ensured that neither Lieberman nor Naftali Bennett could impose an early General Election. It was the Prime Minister who made sure that it will only be held when it suits him; he blocked his opponents from using the election card to their advantage.
Netanyahu’s manoeuvres revealed that his campaign against those purportedly in the same political camp as him is no less fierce than the war against those in the opposition. In the past, he succeeded in containing Ehud Barak, Livni and Lapid, as he pushed the first to leave the Labour Party in order gain a position in his government, and then he dismissed the other two in a humiliating manner, thus breaking the opposition’s backbone.
He went on to form his fourth coalition government with only right-wing parties represented, as Lapid was replaced with former Likud member Moshe Kahlon as Finance Minister; Ayelet Shaked from the Jewish Home Party took over from Livni as Justice Minister; and Barak was replaced first by Ya’alon and then Lieberman as Defence Minister.
Given the lack of major political differences between the main Israeli parties regarding the Palestinian issue and issues related to it, Netanyahu remains the strong man, both within Likud and in the right wing camp. He is a candidate with no viable opponent, either personally or politically, to match him. His party and the right are likely to win in all possible electoral scenarios, if we accept that former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, Benny Gantz, who has not yet made any political statements and is negotiating with Ya’alon, is left of centre, and that Lapid, who refuses to sit with the bloc of Israeli-Arab MKs, is also a part of this camp.
Whichever way we look at the opinion polls, whether or not Gantz is with the Labour Party, the prediction is that Netanyahu will lead the next government. An even worse scenario would be for Gantz’s party to destroy the Labour and Meretz vote and join Netanyahu’s next government in order for the former Chief of Staff to take over the defence portfolio. If that happened, though, Netanyahu would still be the next Prime Minister of Israel. It is almost guaranteed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.