Reflections on the Elections

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One: Stalemate. As was predicted here in last month’s post, pre-elections, the most likely outcome of Israelis going to the polls is another deadlock. An intractable division in which no side—right, center, or left—can form a governing coalition. In this early stage some unknown factors remain, but it will take a ‘Passover Miracle’ for anybody to form a coalition. And if successful, it will be so razor-thin a margin that it won’t last long.

Two: Bibi Netanyahu. Despite his election-night claim of victory—what else?—he lost. Not only he lost five members of Knesset (MKs) in his party (more than 10%), but his ability to establish a governing coalition has been reduced dramatically as a result. He has 52 MKs at his camp, and even with ‘Yamina’, a party to his right and a natural ally with 7 MKs, he won’t make it. He needs the help of the ‘United Arab List’, a Muslim Arab party which throughout the years he declared as the enemy of Israel and Zionism. Fat chance there, then, if not totally out of the question since he is not only fighting for his political life, but his personal life; i.e., to stay out of jail.

Three: Benny Gantz. As my readers know, I supported his move to join the coalition with the treacherous Netanyahu, and even stuck with him through thick and thin before the elections, calling on Israelis to vote for him. Apparently—they heard me. He and his Blue & White party are probably the biggest surprises of these elections. Predicted by experts during the campaign to not even pass the electoral threshold, and therefore not get into the Knesset, he now has 8 MKs and it’s the fourth biggest party. Even combat friends—such as previous prime Minister Ehud Barack –called on him publicly to withdraw from the election. Party friends and members deserted him. Yet he stuck with it. And the outlandish scenario I’d laid out before you in my last post, of him ending up being the Prime Minister as a result of this, and that of next elections’ stalemate, took another step forward to become an (unbelievable indeed) reality.

Four: Mansour Abbas. He is an Arab Israeli and the leader of the ‘United Arab List’ (Ra’am), who’s also one of the few winners of this round of elections. He’d split from the Joint Arab Party and was also not predicted to pass the electoral threshold. And yet he has passed with 4 MKs, and now finds himself in the enviable position of being declared a potential ‘kingmaker’. He can extract any price now, any deal, in order to solve the problems facing his constituency in the Arab society, in return to joining—or even just supporting in the Knesset without joining—either camp. Yes, even the rightwing Likud camp.

Five: Labor and Meretz. Another surprise. The rebirth of the Labor Party—the old party of the ‘giants,’ who fought, build, and sustained Israel from pre-independence to 1976—came out from the dead with 7 MKs, with a strong (almost Golda-like) woman leader, Merav Michaeli at its helm. Meretz, a party even left to the Labor party, which was predicted to not pass the electoral threshold too, did so with 6 MKs, enough to survive in the Israeli political arena. They should unite again, that’s my opinion, yet I’m delighted and encouraged to see them in the Knesset.

Six:  Religious Zionism. This party on the extreme right, led by Bezalel Smotricv, also won with 7 MKs. Without them Netanyahu doesn’t even have a prayer. They are the fervent supporters of ‘Eretz Shlema;’ the whole of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. This is the settlers’ party, with “lawmakers who back expelling ‘disloyal’ Arabs and vow to ‘put the Torah first’.” (Haaretz). This party includes “Itamar Ben-Gvir… the leader of this extremist right-wing party… a disciple of Meir Kahane.” Not only he’s in the Knesset, but he might be in the government too.

Seven: Israel is stuck. Split into two halves, left of center and right of center. One begins to think the whole political system has to change sooner or later before a significant change could come. Or Netanyahu is finally removed for power—before he grabs it for good—and goes to jail. Even he, the “political genius,” the  “Fox,” couldn’t muster a win. Twelve ongoing years in power, in control of everything, hailed as the coronavirus pandemic miracle worker, a receiver of tremendous political gifts from President Trump, establishing peace and normalization with about four Arab states, and yet he has lost. The problem is intractable, and even a united front of the center-left parties—very unlikely—might not bring a solution, as we saw in the first three election rounds.

Eight: A miracle. Fifth elections without decision. Benny Gantz becomes Prime Minister on November 17 because of the current coalition agreement and law. Netanyahu goes to jail eventually, or resigns with a plea agreement and is ordered to stay out of politics for good, yet a free man. This will shuffle the cards, will bring new elections with hopefully a new leader in charge. Fat chance, you say. I agree. Yet one can still hope.

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The Surprising, Crucial Element in Israel’s Next Elections

timesofisrael.com

To better understand what’s at stake in this election round, what change it might bring—if any at all—and especially what that new, surprising (even crucial) element is, we better analyze first where we are with these elections, and what to expect.

Not much, indeed, by way of a change. Let’s say a rich uncle has suddenly materialized in my life and is handing me a hundred dollars (a thousand, a million, all the same) to bet on the elections. Right away, I will put 50 bucks on the result of ‘no change.’ Things will stay the same, with no one being able to form a government (but hang on, as such result is important to that surprising element I promised you at the top). In other words, no side—either Netanyahu’s Likud and his rightwing block, neither the center-left block—will be able to form a sustained coalition. A stalemate, in short, will ensue.

How come? Well, essentially, nothing much has changed in the makeup of the Israeli public and electorate since the first election in this cycle took place, some two years ago. In this, the fourth round, the Knesset will be divided just as much, if not exactly right vs left but with Netanyahu’s block against the rest. No one will be able to secure a majority and therefore the impasse will remain; Netanyahu will continue to rule as a Prime Minister in transition, until another round of useless election is called and commence.

So next, I will put thirty dollars of my uncle’s money on Netanyahu succeeding after all to form a governing coalition. I’m betting here on his ability to pull another rabbit out of the hat, mainly due to him taking full credit for the vaccination success in Israel, beating down the coronavirus pandemic, and the normalization of relations with several Arab and African countries. Also, his appeal to the Israeli Arab population (his sworn enemy in the last three elections) on the one hand, and the racist Kahanist party on the other. Right now the Israeli polls indicate a slight improvement in the possibility of such an outcome, and these polls, it must be said here upfront, were pretty accurate the last two rounds.

Now to the twenty dollars left for me to bet on. I’ll put them on the opposing, anti-Netanyahu forces being able somehow to form a government. The chances are not good, but I have twenty bucks left (and it’s not my money, to boot). In fact, as I write this post, some polls do predict a slight advantage to this camp. So why only twenty dollars on them? Because this camp, while united in its disdain for Netanyahu, is so fragmented on all other issues facing the country that it will not be able to come to an agreement. Not on who will lead them, and not on what to do once they are in power. Furthermore, even in the unlikeliest scenario that they will be able to form a governing coalition, it will collapse soon thereafter and bring a new election round.
This brings me to the surprising element I promised you at the top, and to the dark horse of these elections. His name is Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and currently the Defense Minister, the acting Justice Minister, and the government Prime Minister in reserve. He is the one who actually won the second election round but was unable to form a coalition, though he had a slight majority. He is the one who promised to never join Netanyahu’s government—but did just that anyway.

He decided, in the dead of night of the coronavirus pandemic outburst to end the debacle, hold his fingers to his nose and join the coalition. In a blogpost on April 26, 2020, titled: The Lesser of Two Evils, I supported his move. It was the right move for Israel and Israelis, I thought, but the wrong, disastrous move for him politically. I was in the minority then, supporting him, and I now find myself in the single-digit minority still thinking he did the right thing.

He prevented the annexation of the West Bank by Netanyahu; he protected the integrity and independence of the judicial system (and Netanyahu’s trial going forward); he helped to muster the resources to fight the pandemic; he served as a gatekeeper for Israel’s democracy, against Netanyahu’s attempts of destroying it. And indeed, as predicted by all, Netanyahu negated to go ahead with the agreement to rotate the premiership, and use the one loophole available for him not to pass a budget. Hence the elections. And hence the collapse of Gantz’s Blue and white party. A party all the polls are indicating is teetering on the edge of not even making it to the next Knesset. Of not passing the electoral threshold.

But guess what: If he does get into the next Knesset, and if as seems most likely the stalemate continues following this election, and the next one too, he would become the next Prime Minister on November 17! Yes, you read me right. By a basic law that the Knesset had enacted under this coalition, he would assume power—if he is still a Knesset member—November 17. No joke!

Now, to be sure, there are so many ‘ifs’ for such a scenario to become reality, that’s it’s almost unthinkable. Hence no money is put on it as a bet. But one fact remains intact: Despite all opinions, predictions and popularity contests showing otherwise, he might still be the best option to replace Netanyahu in power. So I say to all Israelis (I am one, too, but I cannot vote unless I fly back home for the elections): Vote for benny Gantz and Blue and White.

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