Feverish speculation about imminent coalition collapses and new elections are commonplace in Israeli politics. Sometimes they are warranted by the facts, and in other instances they are simply a means to pry concessions out of recalcitrant coalition partners perturbed by the prospect of early elections. While the rumors over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to initiate the beginning of the end of his current government on Sunday turned out not to be true, by law there must be an election within the next 13 months.

Despite the allegations of corruption and fraud dogging Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Likud is presently the clear favorite to win the most seats in an election in 2019. It has consistently polled at over 30 mandates for the last few months, with its nearest competitor, the centrist Yesh Atid, more than 10 seats behind. The stellar relationship with the Trump administration as well as the fraught situation on the Gaza border provide Likud a boost against an opposition, which, years of supposition notwithstanding, have not furnished their image with a popular former military figure in their leadership. Even if Benny Gantz was named leader of the Labor Party tomorrow and faced no legal obstacles to participating in the election, it’s unclear if that would be enough this late in the game.

However, Israeli politics is not a binary contest (or at least it hasn’t been the since the end of the ill-fated experiment in prime ministerial elections). Likud, on its own, will certainly not win an outright majority or even enough seats with which it can form a coalition by wooing one or two parties. There are six parties in the current coalition and polls indicate the next one will require a similar number, especially if Likud does well and pulls seats from other right-wing parties.

If there is one slight and distant worry for Netanyahu, it is this: Likud wins between 35 and 40 seats, but Shas, a splintered UTJ, and Yisrael Beteinu all fail to cross the electoral threshold while the center-left-Arab opposition bloc maintains its strength with seats merely shifting from one party to another. As horrific as this sounds to Netanyahu, it doesn’t yet capture the entire scope of the nightmare. The principal reason why Shas would fail to cross the threshold is its former leader, Eli Yishai, who wasted 125,000 right-wing votes in the 2015 election and didn’t make it into the Knesset. This calamity would be on top of the votes Yishai may once again sink.

This unlikely fear is what’s probably behind Netanyahu’s recent enthusiasm for lowering the electoral threshold, which was raised prior to the last election. The last time, Yisrael Beteinu was leading an effort to limit the representation of Arab parties; at the time, two of the three Arab parties crossed into the Knesset just above the electoral threshold line. The effort backfired spectacularly. Not only did the Arab parties unite to form the Joint List, which is now the third-largest parliamentary group in the Knesset, but Yisrael Beteinu lost more than half their seats in a disastrous election result.

Shas, a party that would benefit from lowering the threshold, is opposed to the move because it would assist its rival, Yishai. Therefore, it’s unlikely to happen.

One of Netanyahu’s most noticeable character traits is the wide gulf between his Churchillian rhetoric and cautious modus operandi. When Israel has confronted national security challenges during his tenure, especially Iran but also Gaza, Netanyahu has routinely chosen to respond through a limited scope. He has no qualms about using force, but he’s reluctant to oversee a conflict that can head in unexpected directions. When such operations involve ground troops, domestic politics invariably play a much greater role. While it was corruption that ultimately brought Ehud Olmert’s tenure to an end, he never recovered from the calamitous Second Lebanon War.

Netanyahu’s recent support for lowering the threshold reflects his signature paranoia, but it’s also an indication that he favors continuing the current right-wing coalition. A loss of five or six seats for the right’s bloc, let alone entire parties disappearing, would force Likud to include at least one moderate or center-left coalition partner. It’s unclear if Lapid would be interested, and the Labor Party’s reflexive tendency to remove leaders following unsuccessful elections makes them an unstable partner. But the main political question for Netanyahu now is, “Who will stick by me after I’m indicted?” The answer is a collection of parties with no incentive to force another election, one that the center-left opposition can plausibly win against Likud sans Bibi.

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