Does the Yamina and Derech Eretz Merger Bring More Stability?
Joint lists decrease political polarization in the Knesset, but this might not hold true when it comes to artificial mergers and parties that have never proven that they represent a significant portion of the population.
The recent announcement by Yamina and Derech Eretz that they will be running together on a joint list in the upcoming election comes on the heels of other parties that made similar decisions such as Blue and White and New Hope. This is on top of more established joint slates such as Hadash, Balad and Ta’al; United Torah Judaism; and the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit who usually run together.
As a rule, joint lists are a positive phenomenon, that decreases political polarization and ensure the representation of different sectors in the political arena.
This depends, however, on whether this political alliance will lead to long-term cooperation during the Knesset’s term following elections, and perhaps even in an official merger of the parties. By contrast, lists that quickly dissolve – for example, the joint list of Blue and White and Yesh Atid as well as the joint Labor-Gesher-Meretz list – often cause more harm than good. They increase political polarization and instability, and harm the public’s trust in their elected representatives.
The decision of Yamina and Derech Eretz to run together also embodies an intriguing phenomenon: parties that compete and get elected to the Knesset as part of a joint list without having previously been elected to the Knesset independently, thus, without ever having proven themselves in an election.
Derech Eretz is an example for such a party, which has never independently competed in elections to the Knesset. Before the party’s founding, its leaders, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, were elected to the Knesset as part of the Telem Party of Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon. Telem ran together with the Blue and White list for the 2019 and 2020 elections.
Following the dissolution of Blue and White after the establishment of the government headed by Netanyahu and Gantz, Blue and White split back into the multiple components that had originally formed the alliance – The Israel Resilience Party (Hosen Le’Israel) headed by Gantz, Yesh Atid headed by Lapid and Telem headed by Ya’alon. Since Hendel and Hauser sought to join the coalition despite Telem choosing to remain in the opposition, they separated and established the Derech Eretz faction which they then registered with the official party registrar. In the 2021 Knesset elections Derech Eretz did not run independently, but rather as part of a joint list with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. When New Hope recently decided to run together with Blue and White, Derech Eretz did not join the initiative.
There are additional parties represented today the Knesset that have never been elected independently such as Ta’al headed by Ahmad Tibi and Otzma Yehudit headed by Itamar Ben Gvir. Ta’al is an historically exceptional example: the party serves in the Knesset continuously since 1999 but was always elected as part of a joint list headed by other Arab parties.
It is unclear whether a list composed of parties that have never been previously elected or even competed independently – significantly contributes to the political sphere. Firstly, it is questionable that these parties ever intended on competing independently in elections – which makes it hard to prove whether political polarization indeed decreases by them joining forces. Secondly, since such parties have not been elected independently – there is no indication that they truly represent a large share of society with a common identity and ideology, yet this can also not be ruled out. Therefore, it is equally hard to claim that they increase the representativeness in the political field.
In fact, it may be that such parties portray the personalization of Israeli politics. Instead of joining existing parties or staying in them, politicians establish their own. Often, as in the case of Ta’al and Derech Eretz, these parties mainly serve as a platform through which politicians join other parties and ensure their election to the Knesset.