It hasn’t been two weeks since an election date was announced in Israel, but a sufficient number of “big bangs” have taken place to fill several election campaigns. They point to an election that will be unpredictable, which is not what Benjamin Netanyahu had in mind when he asked the Knesset to dissolve his coalition government. Indeed, his relative strength in rallying right-leaning voters behind the Likud may prove to be his ultimate downfall.

Unfortunately, it seems the mainstream center-left saw these events as an opportunity to exacerbate its factional tendencies –– potentially throwing away their best chance to thwart Netanyahu’s ambitions in years.

To start with the machinations on the right: the decision by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked to break off from Bayit Yehudi to form Hayemin Hehadash (The New Right) is potentially catastrophic for Netanyahu. It threatens to wipe out Bayit Yehudi, which will now likely be led by the far-right Bezalel Smotrich. If that happens, it will be right-wing votes that are wasted in the process.

If they do pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, especially if it’s done through a Frankenstein merger with the extremist Otzma Yehudit and Eli Yishai’s Yachad Party, Smotrich will hardly be an appealing partner for Netanyahu. He would need to be given one of the senior cabinet posts, perhaps Education or Health, and would probably continue to make the bizarre and nakedly racist comments for which he is most well known.

While Netanyahu would benefit from an unabashed annexationist in the cabinet as an excuse not to act on whatever proposal comes out of Washington after the election (if it ever does), Smotrich is a true believer who will create real domestic headaches for Netanyahu at a time when he will be preoccupied with three pending indictments.

The problem on the right goes beyond the splitting of Bayit Yehudi. According to the latest average polling aggregated on, the four parties most at risk of falling beneath 3.25 percent are parties that one would expect to join a right-leaning coalition: the rump Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, and Gesher (the new party led by Orly Levy). If one party or two fails to make it into the Knesset, chances are the right bloc will be the loser in that scenario. If Netanyahu employs his favored strategy of “cannibalizing” right-wing votes for the Likud, the chances of this happening grow.

However, as the weekend brought mostly good news for the opposition, a New Year’s Day surprise was in the offing. On Tuesday, Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay abruptly dissolved the Zionist Union and unceremoniously pushed Tzipi Livni to the curb at a hastily arranged press conference. Livni was caught by surprise, not least because she was scheduled to meet with Gabbay later that day to discuss the future of the union.

The reaction to what was essentially a public shaming has rightly focused on the method and not the result. For weeks, Livni had made it all but clear that Gabbay and Zionist Union as it was constituted were not a credible opposition to the government. There had been rumors for weeks about her bolting the party, which slowed after a critical funding deadline passed last week. Her days in a Labor-led list were numbered.

But instead of issuing a statement or first breaking the news to Livni, Gabbay chose to go down a classless route, one which does not demonstrate political gravitas but rather personal pettiness resembling that of the current occupant of the Prime Minister’s Office. It’s no surprise that some Labor MKs are now trying to get rid of him.

Livni’s response will prove crucial to the center-left’s fortunes in this election. If Livni takes seriously her exhortations for political leaders to put their egos aside, she faces a difficult choice.

Livni has spent the last couple weeks hopelessly advancing the idea of unified bloc of opposition parties to challenge Likud. It’s now clear this won’t happen: at the very least, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, and Gabbay (assuming he survives) will compete for the sizeable “Anyone But Bibi” vote that exists to the right of Meretz and to the left of Likud. If talks between Gantz’s Hosen LeYisrael and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem Party don’t go anywhere, that will add a fourth list seeking those votes. Livni should not contribute to this division.

After being removed from Zionist Union and ruling out a joint ticket with Meretz, there is no partnership that makes obvious sense for Livni’s Hatnuah Party. Livni is not a traditional Israeli leftist, but leftists appear to be the ones who regard her vision with the most respect. She could entice former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to join or even lead Hatnuah, but that would worsen the potential for division. The alternative to potentially adding another center-left party to the mix is not to run at all, leaving Meretz as the only party advocating for a two-state solution as a central campaign issue.

The fracture on the right presented an opportunity for the opposition, but Gabbay has now thrown the latter into a state of uncertainty. After the results, we may look back at Livni’s ultimate response to this as a key turning point for the campaign.