There’s a smell of elections in the air. The recent deep crisis among the ruling coalition parties over the Public Broadcasting Corporation, the criminal investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US pressure on the Netanyahu government to curb construction in the settlements and the newly announced return of Likud star (and former minister) Gideon Saar to politics, all give off that whiff. On March 24, Politico was already anointing Yair Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party, as Israel’s next prime minister. According to a Channel 10 poll, if elections were held now, Yesh Atid would rake in more votes than the Likud party led by Netanyahu (29 Knesset seats compared to 27).
If Lapid wins over Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman with the six Knesset seats that Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party was given in the poll, as well as the half-dozen expected seats of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party, and mobilizes the support of the center-left Zionist Camp, left-wing Meretz party and the Arab Joint List, he would be able to head off Netanyahu on his way to a fifth term as prime minister. But it’s one thing to move a new tenant into the Jerusalem prime minister’s official residence and quite another to bring about a significant transformation of the diplomatic and social reality in Israel — a goal that appears all but unachievable.