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.
The rise of the Israeli right and Netanyahu’s announcement of annexing a significant portion of the West Bank
Israel’s ultra ethno-religious right is monopolized in the forthcoming parliamentary elections of September 17, 2019, by the party “Jewish Power” (“Otzmah Yehudit”). The party advocates the prevalence of Jewish religious law in all manifestations of public and private life, the full incorporation of the entire West Bank into Israeli territory – including full Israeli control of the ‘Temple Mount’ in the Old City of Jerusalem – which will entail the preservation and expansion of existing Jewish settlements, while promoting specific legislation on the status of the Arab minority residing in the country.
“Jewish Power” is participating in parliamentary elections for the first time. However, its constituents have come a long way since the 2006 election, participating in party formations of the same ideology, but without meeting the electoral threshold. During the recent two elections, the leaders of “Jewish Power”, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, participated in election coalitions: The first in the elections of 9 April 2019 with the “Union of the Right Wing Parties” and the second in the elections of 17 March 2015 in the Jahad party formation, which did not exceed 3.25%. The co-founders of the “Yamina” political establishment have rejected the possibility of accepting “Jewish Power” cadres in their ranks, with the result that the latter will proceed independently in the forthcoming elections.
With each election for a new parliament, the ideological agenda of the party’s officials – regardless of which party umbrella they have participated under – is subject to the legal scrutiny of the special parliamentary committee responsible for ratifying the electoral candidacies. objections against their candidacy were based on whether the ideological background of its political rhetoric was compatible with the very democratic nature of the state. This is mainly because some of its officials do not hide their ideological identification with the “Kach” organization of assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, an organization that had been outlawed in Israel because it was classified as terrorist, targeting the country’s Arab population.
In the face of the forthcoming elections, objections were raised against the particular party by the Left and Center-Left parties. On 14 August 2019, the relevant parliamentary committee met under a presiding judge of the country’s Supreme Court and ruled that “Jewish Power” would be allowed to run in the 17 September elections. However, the “Blue and White”, the “Labor Party”, the “Democratic Party” and the religious body representing the Jewish Reformers objected to the decision of the parliamentary committee and the case was referred to the Supreme Court sitting as a Special Court. On 25 August 2019 the Supreme Court ruled to remove two of the “Jewish Power” MPs, Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel, who, as is typically stated in the relative statement by the government’s Legal Commissioner “adequate information has been collected which show these two candidates have been publicly promoting racist violence in a systematic way for many years.” Concerning the participation of the “Jewish Power” in the forthcoming elections – in addition to the two aforementioned candidates – the Supreme Court moved in the context of the Legal Commissioner’s recommendation, which concluded that “although “Jewish Power” is very close to the ‘red’ line that would cancel its candidacy, however, it has not yet crossed over it. Thus, “Jewish Power” will run in the September 17, 2019 elections, but without two of the 29 candidates on its ballot.
Will it turn out to be a surprise? What the polls show
At the beginning of the pre-election period, “Jewish Power” looked poised to not be able to meet the minimum electoral requirement for entry to parliament (3.25%). However, according to a poll by State Broadcasting, the results of which were announced on 10 September, just seven days before the ballot boxes opened, “Jewish Power” reportedly exceeds the 3.25% threshold and controls 4 seats in the Knesset. If this poll is confirmed – as well as the communication flowing in favor of party leader Itmar Ben-Gvir – then it will undoubtedly be a breakthrough for the extreme ethno-religious right, but at the same time a rather unpleasant surprise for the “Yemina” party coalition, which will see some of its constituents turn further to the right.
A possible entry into the Knesset of “Jewish Power” is not a good development for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, who personally would like to be surrounded by voices – of the ‘right’ – but less radical and certainly not extreme. So, if Likud wants to form a coalition government, it is a common secret that it would not wish to include “Jewish Power” in the new cabinet. Otherwise, such a move would suggest that Israel essentially promotes the complete cancellation of the Oslo agreements, a failure to commit to applying the “two-nation-two-state” principle as a basis for resolving the Palestinian conflict, and the beginning of further frictions. On the regional and international levesl.
Based on the results of the 10 September poll, the entry of “Jewish Power” into the new Knesset is accompanied by a slight weakening of all the other right-wing parties – both Avigdor Lieberman’s party (Israel Beitenu / Israel Our Home) and the “Yemina” alliance. The ‘reshuffle of the right electoral pie’ also seems to affect Likud, as it is allegedly weakened against the center-left ‘Blue and White’. So, while the centrist tendencies of right-wing voters are (for the time being) reinforcing the “Jewish Power”, “Blue and White” is managing to rally the center-left portion of voters – either because of ideology or as a sign of protest against Mr. Netanyahu.
However, by all indications, there will be no ‘pure’ election result for the Right or the Left. Even if “Jewish Power” is able to enter the Israeli parliament, Avigdor Lieberman’s party remains the main regulator. According to a poll by state broadcaster on 10 September, Likud and other right-wing parties (including “Jewish Power”) have 58 seats. On the other hand, the “Blue and White” and other parties of the Left (including the “United Arab League”) have 53 seats. As for Avigdor Liberman’s party, it is said to be able to ‘bring its own measure’ to the post-election balances by controlling 9 seats – which will essentially decide the final winner of the election.
As for “Jewish Power”, and if the latest polls are finally confirmed and it enters parliament, its involvement in a Likud-led government under Benjamin Netanyahu is considered unlikely for the reasons outlined above.
If Likud manages to form a right-wing coalition government, it is certain that “Jewish Power” will give it a vote of confidence – even if it is just a ‘vote of tolerance’.
What is certain, however, is that if “Jewish Power” succeeds in entering the Israeli parliament, it will not do the slightest that might lead the country to new elections – since no one could know if future political circumstances will remain favorable to the specific party.
Netanyahu’s sudden announcement of the annexation of the Jordan Valley
Less than 24 hours after the announcement of the results of a state broadcaster poll on the morning of September 10, 2019, in the afternoon of the same day, Benjamin Netanyahu made an announcement that few expected. Obviously, the apparent redistribution of right-wing votes has played an important role, with the dynamic rise in the percentages “Jewish Power”, which, however, does not secure for the right-wing the magic number of 61 parliamentary seats (which would make it possible to form a purely right-wing governmentunder Netanyahu). At the same time, for the first time, the center-left “Blue and white” is said to be leading the same poll with one seat over Likud – which means that with an alliance with Lieberman, the chances of forming a government of the anti-religious center become dangerously posible. And all this, just a week before voters go to the polls.
Given all this, Netanyahu’s staff (if not himself personally) decided to drastically change the election agenda, literally at the last minute.
Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to local media that if he was re-elected as prime minister, he would annex the Jordan Valley and areas along the northern shores of the Dead Sea. The Jordan Valley is located in the northeast part of the West Bank, accounting for 30% of its area, covering a total of 2,400 square kilometers. Under the Oslo Accords, the Valley occupies parts of areas B and C – the final status of which was to be specified if the Israeli-Palestinian talks were to continue. The Jordan Valley now houses 65,000 Palestinians in scattered small rural villages and towns, along with a total of 14,800 Israeli settlers. Israeli settlements occupy most of the valley’s arable land – which constitutes the most exploitable agricultural, farming land in the entire West Bank. The Jordan Valley covers the entire border with Jordan, from the northern tip of the West Bank to the northern shores of the Dead Sea, reaching the outskirts of the city of Jericho, which is administrated by the Palestinian Authority. As for the northern shores of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area, there is the Israeli kibbutz Kalia and other resorts along the coastline, which employ not only Israeli but also Palestinian settlers, from Jericho a town traditionally tolerant of Israeli business presence – mainly due to the development of the Dead Sea tourism since 1967.
The reason why Netanyahu chose this time to make such a serious statement is clear and has been sufficiently explained. The fact that he chose to announce the annexation of the area – and indeed the beginning of annexation of the entire West Bank in the future – is not accidental: Netanyahu believes the Palestinians’ response there will be insignificant since their daily income, from the 1967 War to the present, depends entirely on Israeli entrepreneurship and state investment. The fact that the Palestinian city of Jericho has been scarcely heard in the news headlines, both in the first and second Intifada, certainly signifies something important.
However, if Israel does finally make this move, then essentially resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the “two-nation-two-state” principle, which is a cornerstone of any UN decision, of the Quartet and the Oslo Accords. should definitively be considered a thing of the past,
“But does he really mean it?”
This is the most frequently asked question in Israel since yesterday afternoon.
However, it is inappropriate to rush to conclusions – and certainly not as long as Israel is going through a pre-election period, a few hours before the September 17 ballot boxes open.
If this unexpected statement by Benjamin Netanyahu is interpreted as a mere electoral vote-gathering ploy, designed to rally genuine right-wing voters around him – removing them from the basically right-wing leaders of the ‘Blue and White’, Gantz and Ya’alon- then, doubtlessly, Netanyahu is playing “his last card”. A ‘last card’ that is the best ‘gift’ for the more right-wing voices being heard by the country’s public opinion on the Palestinian issue.
But if this statement is seen as a precursor of what Netanyahu will realize if he is re-elected, then we are talking about a clear Israeli withdrawal from the Oslo accords and a substantial breach of Israel’s commitment to a “two-state-two-nation” resolution of the conflict. In such a case, if the “Jewish Power” does indeed pass the electoral threshold and wins 4 seats in the new Knesset, no one can rule out that it could take part in the new government. However, it is difficult to imagine Netanyahu and his party environment going back to such a drastic “religious-ization” of official government rhetoric as generally expressed by “Jewish Power” officials.
On the other hand, we must not forget that, as announced by Washington, the Trump peace plan is set to be announced “a few weeks” after the Israeli elections. With that in mind, it cannot be ruled out that Netanyahu’s announcement of annexing the Jordan Valley could be a tactical move. If the Israeli side shows that it will take such an extreme stance, then it will give itself the opportunity to ‘step back’ at some later stage of any negotiation that follows.
Which of the three interpretations will prove to be correct?
At the moment, nobody knows.
Unless, however, the repeated resignations of President Trump’s advisers, who have so far played an active role in shaping the Trump Plan for the Middle East, betray that we are indeed about to forget all that we thought we knew about efforts to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.