It may have seemed an impressive show of unity in the face of unfavorable polls, which indicate the center-left Zionist Union could head Israel’s next government, but a large rally in Tel Aviv Sunday night also set the stage for a final day of jockeying for position among the right-wing parties.
As Israelis prepare to vote in Knesset elections on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself at a crossroads that could see him losing the premiership to the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog.
In order to close at least some of the gap from the Zionist Union, Likud must siphon tens of thousands of votes away from other parties, especially the settler-oriented Jewish Home and the center-right Kulanu, led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon.
To that end, Netanyahu has been courting voters with a string of interviews to Israeli media in which he has warned that a vote for any party other than Likud will hasten the advent of a Herzog government.
In one interview Sunday, Netanyahu complained of a “worldwide” conspiracy funneling millions of dollars to oust him.
“Those sending the money, they don’t think about our problems here in Israel,” he told Army Radio. “They want one thing. They want to make sure the left rises to power.”
In his effort to woo Kulanu voters back into the Likud fold — Kahlon has described himself as representing a “true Likud” whose values Netanyahu has forsaken — the prime minister has promised to appoint Kahlon as finance minister in his next cabinet, no matter how many votes Kulanu musters.
The offer is a double-edged sword for Kahlon, whose campaign has focused on the plight of middle-class and disadvantaged Israelis who have found it increasingly hard to get ahead in recent years. If he accepts it, he risks losing votes to Likud; if he declines, he could be signaling to his largely right-wing base that he favors Herzog over Netanyahu.
Kahlon has rebuffed the advance, saying that Netanyahu’s promises, which he repeated in his speech to the rally on Sunday, can’t be trusted.
Taking the stage after Netanyahu was Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party could also bleed votes to Likud in the final 24 hours before the election.
Party officials warned Sunday that Jewish Home could dip below 10 seats in the next Knesset should Netanyahu draw enough voters to Likud, down from as many as 17 in early pre-election polls.
AP contributed to this report.