Israel: The Latest Election Ends in Stalemate
by Viktor Mikhin, …with New Eastern Outlook, Moscow,…and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a research institution for the study of the countries and cultures of Asia and North Africa.
[ Editor’s Note: Color me not surprised. Factional Israel, where everyone wants to be the boss so they can tell everybody else what to do, is locked in another no majority situation, with no coalition group having the 60 seats needed to form a government.
We will see another round of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing to entice party members to change sides in return for payoffs of attractive ministry positions, not only for the salaries and perks, but the public exposure needed to move further up the Israeli political hierarchy.
Jews are nothing if not competitive. If we ever saw a competition like this between gentiles and Jews the air would be filled with claims of anti-semitism. But alas, in Israel, that smear does not work.
But they still go for each other’s throats, as there are no real limits on denigrating an opponent. In reality, it seems to be a national blood sport which the public enjoys.
So get your bag of popcorn to sit back and watch the show. And it will be a thriller, with the grand prize being a coalition that can be formed that puts Bibi out of power so he cannot stop his criminal trials.
My vote goes for almost anyone but Bibi… Jim W. Dean ]
First published … April 05, 2021
The outcomes of the legislative election held on March 23 showed that there was an even worse political gridlock in Israel than before, as a clear winner who could have put an end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule failed to emerge after the fourth election in two years.
According to the latest available data, the right-wing bloc backing the current Prime Minister and leader of Likud has won 52 seats, while the opponents (an ideologically diverse group) — 57. Neither coalition has gained the required majority of 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to form a government.
Over 1 million people voted for Likud, the most popular party, which won 30 of the seats in the Knesset. The election turnout was 67.4%, i.e. the lowest it has been since 2009 when it was 64.7%. Although there are many parties in Israel, in reality, two of them dominate the political landscape – Likud, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its opposition, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid.
At this stage, both parties will try to gain the support they need in parliament and President Reuven Rivlin “will assign the coalition-building task to one of the candidates,” picked by each side by April 7.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel, should be viewed as a favorite not only on account of his political acumen gained over many years but also because the parties that are part of his bloc are seemingly better organized and more politically savvy than those of the opposition.
The rival bloc comprises members with competing interests, including an anti-Zionist party promoting Arab nationalism and right-wing groups opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu. And they have all joined forces with the 2nd most powerful party in Israel (a centrist one).
It is worth noting that an election is only the first step in a fairly long-term process, enshrined by law, that governs the actions that have to be taken in accordance with Israel’s party-list proportional representation system of voting. Once the official election results are announced (on March 31), all the parties on the ballot have the right to contest them until April 14.
Within a week after these outcomes are publicized, President Reuven Rivlin has to meet with representatives of all the parties that won seats in the Knesset to hear whom they recommend be given the mandate, or the opportunity, to form the next government.
The following day (on April 6), the newly voted-in and re-elected members of the parliament are to be sworn into office irrespective of the situation with the government. On April 7, President Rivlin is expected to announce who will be given the mandate to form the next government, based on who he assesses has the best chance of doing so.
That person will have 28 days to try and meet with potential partners to win their support and ensure that he or she receives at least 61 out of 120 votes in parliament. The chosen candidate must form an administration no later than May 5. If the candidate fails to meet the deadline, the President may give them another two weeks, until May 19.
Although Benjamin Netanyahu has been a long-standing member of the right-wing party, he has, without hesitation, appealed to moderates or got rid of trusted supporters in order to hold on to power. Over the last 12 years as Prime Minister, his thirst for power appears to have turned him into a more autocratic leader.
Not only have his actions alienated the members of his own and allied parties who felt betrayed by his peremptory attitude and broken promises but also led to his indictment on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud.
During the past 25 years some of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies have disappointed democratic leaders of the United States, such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but appealed to Republicans, particularly from neoconservative and Christian fundamentalist movements. This continued over the past four years, during which he enjoyed a close relationship with Donald Trump.
Potential problems that could arise after the election include a key one: the possibility Benjamin Netanyahu could form an alliance with ultra-Orthodox parties. Although the long-serving Prime Minister is seemingly not a very religious person, he established ties with the aforementioned groups to help him stay in power. Its members could agree to support him in exchange for an exemption from military duty, generous subsidies and right of veto when it comes to issues of religious practices.
Of even greater concern is the fact that, in his desire to win, Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly promised government positions in return for support to members of the openly racist Religious Zionist Party (which Jewish Power, formed of ideological successors to Meir Kahane, is a part of).
It is extremely worrying that there have been few repercussions either in Israel or the United States in response to the partnership with this group, known for incitement to violence against Arabs and opposition to more moderate and less nationalistic points of view among the Jewish populace.
As during the three previous elections, surveys have shown that Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition can not win the support of majority of voters. Hence, it is difficult to forecast who will be selected to form the new government.
Likud (with Benjamin Netanyahu at its helm) is still the most powerful party but even in partnership with its allies and religious groups, it probably cannot win 61 seats in the Knesset to ensure the Prime-Minister remains in his post. Opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu, most of whom are former supporters or even members of Likud, are also unlikely to easily form a government despite collectively winning more seats than the right-wing bloc.
In order to gain enough support, they will have to put aside their differences and secure the backing of a relatively large Arab-majority alliance. However, so far it has been difficult for either side to achieve this goal.
Hence, the author thinks that this time around, in contrast to the previous elections, several party leaders will be forced to establish partnerships with rivals who they may dislike or distrust in order to form a new government. In fact, this is essentially what happened after the 2020 election, when one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents agreed to join a unity government, thus, in a way, betraying his own party.
According to observers, for the first time in the history of Israel, members of the United Arab List (or Ra’am), may get to decide who the next Prime Minister will be, as despite winning only 4% of the parliament seats, their support is essential for either of the coalitions.
Admittedly, it is quite ironic that the political fate of Benjamin Netanyahu, who built a successful career scaremongering among Israelis about the threat posed by politicians from the country’s Arab minority, now depends on the leader of the aforementioned party, Mansour Abbas.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu and his leading opponents, for the most part, support Israeli control over occupied territories and further expansion of Israeli settlements within them, and oppose the establishment of a fully independent State of Palestine with its inhabitants having equal rights to those of Israelis, it is quite clear that the new Prime Minister, whoever it may be, will not pursue peaceful and just policies.
The middle ground will probably be taken with plans (reflecting both the goals of Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance and “I am not Netanyahu” coalition) implemented.
The latest election clearly showed divisions within Israeli society, with some members reluctant to support a corrupt and autocratic government or very religious groups.
A number of liberal supporters of Israel in the United States appear to think that Benjamin Netanyahu’s defeat could restore the support for Israel among democrats. However, such beliefs are at best misguided.
While Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions resulted in tensions within the Democratic Party, it was, in fact, Israeli policies and the increased awareness of what Palestinians were forced to endure during the occupation that led not only to a rift down party lines over Israel but also to disagreements between democrats and their leadership in US Congress.
Hence, even if the removal of a corrupt autocrat from power could improve Israel’s image for some in the United States, there will not be any pivotal changes in attitudes towards the country unless it changes its policies. However, such reforms are not on the agenda of either Benjamin Netanyahu or his opponents.
Perhaps the only truly new and negative development during the latest elections was the disintegration of the Arab Joint List party, which at some point in time united more than 2 million Arab citizens of Israel.
Arab Israelis experience systemic racism, discrimination in the work sphere, including the government sector, police indifference and violence, and Benjamin Netanyahu chose to court one of the Arab majority parties promising its members full support.
Before the election, the leaders of Ra’am decided to leave the Arab Joint List coalition. They have not learnt from the past, after all, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to betray them just as he did his former partners time and time again.
Prior to the election, some forecasts put Ra’am (Israel’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood banned in the Russian Federation) above the electoral threshold. Hence, the Arab Joint List was expected to win fewer seats than it would have if it had remained intact.
Still, for over 5 million Palestinians whose territories remain occupied, these elections are essentially much ado about nothing since only the government ruling these lands is expected to change.
Some Palestinians are also worried that a completely new leadership could, for a period of time, give supporters of Israel in the United States the break that they need as well as generate better publicity for Israel, while their plight will remain essentially unchanged or worse still, Israel may increase its control over their lives.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.