Israeli elections: What the polls (don’t) show

Defence-point.com is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.” These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election.

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.

 

 

 

 

What the polls (don’t) show

Ten days remain until the September 17 parliamentary elections in Israel, and the climate remains rather subdued, with the main players moving in the same context of last April’s parliamentary election campaign. On the opposition side, the accusations against Netanyahu concerning corruption cases are enriched by arguments that stress the danger of extreme theocracy in private and public life. Correspondingly, the right-wing coalition highlights the foreign policy achievements of Netanyahu’s administration, over many years, while also attacking the personalities of the left and the “Blue and White” leaders, showing them as politically incapable of taking important positions.

Based on recent polls, the Israeli electorate appears to be stagnant compared to last April’s results. An average of the polls shows Likud leading, over the ‘Blue and White’ by a single seat, garnering 32 of Knesset’s 120 total seats. The Arab “Joint List” remains the third parliamentary force, as in the April elections, shown to be garnering 10 seats. Avigdor Lieberman’s party appears to be getting 9 seats – while in the first polls it managed to win 11 seats – and Yamina’s ethno-religious right-wing shows a respectable 9-seat presence. The stable performance of the Orthodox parties “Shas” and “United Torah Judaism”, which are estimated to have a total of 15 seats holds no surprises. Finally, the two left-wing parties, the “Labor Party” and the “Democratic Union”, each gets 7 seats.

The conclusion drawn from an average of the polls in recent weeks shows that the right-wing takes precedence over the seats of the left, but does not exceed the 61 seats required to form a government. Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party remains the regulator, but he seeks to form a government of national unity with Likud and the “Blue and White”, without the parties of the ultraorthodox and the religious right. On the other hand, while Lieberman ideologically places himself on the Right, his anti-religious agenda has helped him find willing ears in the center-left “Blue and White”. As a result, Lieberman and the “Blue and White” signed a surplus-vote agreement last week. In practice, this means that those who vote for the right-wing “Yisrael Beiteinu” and are ‘not enough’ to be ‘translated’ into parliamentary seats will be counted in favor of the center-left “Blue and White”. If we even believe in the polls, which show that the Likud – “Blue and White” dispute will be over just one seat, we realize that the votes that Lieberman will give to Benny Gantz’s party may ‘give’ the “Blue and White” party a primacy in terms of seats. On the other hand, even if the “Blue and White” becomes the first party in terms of power in the Knesset, this does not necessarily mean that Benny Gantz will receive the mandate to form a government from the President of the State. Israeli electoral law stipulates that the President of the State, at his discretion, assigns the mandate of forming a government to the political leader whom he considers most likely to form a government – taking into account the parliamentary power of the other parties. This is also one of the main differences that the Israeli electoral system has with respect to those in other western parliamentary democracies.

In other words, it is very likely that the day after the election of September 17, 2019 will be very similar to the day that followed the election of April 9, 2019 – with whatever this entails.

What could change the electoral climate so that the forthcoming ballots give a ‘clean’ result?
The answer is simple: Changing the electoral agenda.

And the electoral agenda will change if the country’s political parties decide to publicly state how they intend to react should the Trump peace plan call for territorial compromises in the West Bank and the greater Jerusalem area.

Something of the sort, barring the unexpected, does not seem to be in the cards at this time. Washington has officially decided that it will announce the terms of the Trump peace plan “a few weeks” after the forthcoming elections in Israel. Until then, everything seems that the next ten days for the average Israeli voter to be distracted, deliberate, deliberately or not, by minor issues. Important national issues (and national dilemmas) will be of great concern to voters in the near future. But alas, after the elections.