The political commentator Yossi Verter recently suggested in the Haaretz newspaper that the chair of the Israeli Labor party, Isaac Herzog, ‘gives the impression of being a figure who could endanger Benjamin Netanyahu’s election to a fourth term as prime minister’.
There are stirrings in the air to suggest just that possibility. One of the sad hallmarks of Netanyahu’s government has been a sequence of distasteful anti-democratic moves. Labor is currently leading an opposition boycott of legislation which will preclude smaller parties from getting into the Knesset, while also opposing another law that would stifle peace efforts by requiring a referendum before Israel makes territorial concessions.
The Palestinian issue has regained its prominent place in Israeli political discourse after a couple of years in which socioeconomic issues dominated. In last year’s general election, Labor failed to capitalise on the massive social protests of 2011, being outmanoeuvred by Yesh Atid, a populist party which ran a slick campaign that captured the social zeitgeist.
John Kerry’s peace drive has almost certainly played a part in knocking some of the gloss off Netanyahu’s fractious coalition. Voters, who overwhelmingly if cautiously favour an agreement with the Palestinians, are growing disenchanted with the right’s disingenuous approach to negotiations, and attribute at least some of the blame for the breakdown of Kerry’s efforts on Netanyahu.
Together, Netanyahu’s Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Is Our Home party and Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party form a rightwing bloc which holds 43 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. The vast majority of the rest of the Knesset supports the two-state solution, and even Lieberman and parts of Likud might support an agreement. Netanyahu’s coalition depends on the support of Tzipi Livni’s pro-peace Hatnua party, which in all likelihood would join a Labor-led government and whose voters are of the centre-left. And Labor is likely to benefit from a fall in support for Yesh Atid as voters turn against its leader, Yair Lapid, who is now widely seen as unprincipled.
The ultra-Orthodox ‘haredi’ parties sit on the opposition benches with Labor and are livid at the rightwing for colluding with Lapid in drafting the haredim into military service. Their largest party, Shas, is led by a man who is much closer to Labor on social and peace issues than its previous leader.
The politicking around the recent presidential election gave an indication of Labor’s renewed political clout. While president-elect Reuven Rivlin hails from Likud, he is also a Netanyahu rival and vigorously opposed his anti-democratic legislation.
Even within the current Knesset it is feasible that Labor could replace the government with some constellation of centrists and haredim. But new elections would probably see the rise of a much more moderate offshoot of Likud, led by Moshe Kahalon, who could very possibly join a Labor-led coalition.
While everything depends on image-building before the election and the horse-trading that takes place after it, there is every reason to believe that Labor will once again form a government in the not-too-distant future.
Hilik Bar MK is deputy speaker of the Knesset and secretary general of the Israeli Labor party
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