JERUSALEM — Israel is trying to avoid a fourth election in less than two years, and two politicians — Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz — have emerged as prime candidates, according to polls.
But no matter who wins, the next government will be a difficult one. Both Mr. Lapid and Mr. Gantz advocate far-reaching changes, including a national minimum wage, higher taxes for top earners and reduced military service for citizens of other countries. Both are wary of the dominant security power, the United States, and eager to diversify their world image, while defending their trade and defense relationships.
Such issues, plus Mr. Lapid’s party’s alignment with the ultra-Orthodox, would make a centrist government impossible.
Mr. Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, is advocating change: a single-party government with two small parties. The idea was floated last year, and it is less controversial than it was because the public seems more focused on sticking with a good thing, keeping the prime minister focused and avoiding another general election.
Mr. Lapid is also proposing a single-party government with Likud: Avigdor Lieberman’s party. Mr. Lieberman is a social conservative whose views align closely with the ultra-Orthodox’s and has no domestic agenda to speak of.
Israeli analysts point out that the only minority in control of an Israeli government, the ultra-Orthodox, could block a coalition with a major centrist party. Some think there is little chance that Mr. Lapid could ally with Mr. Lieberman, though that is not impossible. If either Mr. Lapid or Mr. Gantz is elected prime minister, they would likely try to work together to form a government.
Whether or not they succeed, Israelis will be able to look forward to a period of hyper-partisanship between the two major parties: Likud, which is traditional Republican, and Yesh Atid, which has significant leftist economic policies.
Mr. Lapid says he plans to challenge Mr. Netanyahu in the next election, in the form of an entirely new party. The question is, how much ideological differences among the center-left and center-right have faded compared with those between Likud and Yesh Atid over the past year, since they became Israel’s largest parties, with separate ministers in the Cabinet and their own debates over how to deal with Iran and the settlement issue.
If Mr. Lapid does take out Mr. Netanyahu, he has suggested Likud’s strong personality and long career can win him back the top job in a few years. Mr. Gantz has set a date for the election. He has already begun touring television and radio stations, touting his own experience, including several years as a fighter pilot, and calling for a new kind of Israel, similar to America’s.