Israel Election Results: Netanyahu, the Alpha Negotiator, Battles a Political Novice for Power

There is so much schadenfreude over Benjamin Netanyahu’s second-place finish to Benny Gantz that the pundits eulogizing his election campaign forget that he has decades of experience maneuvering through coalition talks.

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The results of Tuesday’s Knesset election, which ended with a virtual tie between Likud and Kachol Lavan and a perplexing coalition calculus, pose a challenge to any would-be prime minister.

Successful coalition talks require skill and strategy, all the more so when you have little maneuverability. You can only offer so many ministerial posts or monetary resources, although Netanyahu hasn’t hesitated to expand cabinets and budgets exponentially to buy support.

Netanyahu has proven to be the alpha negotiator of the past decade, not only closing the deal but also setting himself up for future success and his coalition partners for future falls. So what can Gantz, a political novice, do to unseat him?

He will have to create bargaining zones, in which there is an overlap between the minimum demands of each side, with potential partners to his right. No such zone between the center or center-left and members of the religious-right bloc has existed since 2006, which is why Netanyahu has been the only game in town.

Gantz has to convince his potential coalition partners that they can’t get a better deal elsewhere, making credible threats and promises to impress on them that they need him more than he needs them.

He must also convey to the anti-Netanyahu bloc that dethroning Netanyahu takes priority over even intense policy and philosophical differences, because removing him serves everyone’s long-term interest. It is no less important that Gantz understands the limits of his leverage and the consequences of walking away.