Israeli parliamentary elections: An evaluation 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.




Israeli parliamentary elections: An evaluation

The final distribution of parliamentary seats, accounting for 99.8% of the vote, brings the Benny Gantz – Yair Lapid – Moshe Yalon trio with 33 seats, while Netanyahu’s Likud comes in second with 31. This development has prompted a number of analyses and publications inside and outside Israel, referring to the “end of the Netanyahu era”. However, the reality is rather the opposite. Let’s take things from the beginning:

On the one hand, the “Blue and White” cannot form a coalition government with the rest of the center-left / left (Labor Party, Democratic Party) and the party of Avigdor Lieberman. All parties together hold 52 seats.

On the other hand, Likud cannot form a coalition government with the rest of the right / religious Shas parties, Torah Judaism and the “Yemina” (which meanwhile prevented a re-split). All these parties together hold 53 seats.

A simple reading of the current situation shows that, without Likud’s involvement, a government cannot finally be formed. As much as Likud’s heirs apparent continue to be silent, we can’t talk about “the end of the Netanyahu era”, no matter how much newspaper analyses and American think tanks insist on the opposite.

The most realistic solution is a government of national unity – a solution repeated by Avigdor Lieberman throughout the pre-election period which he has continued to do so from election night until today. According to Lieberman, a government of national unity with his own party and with Likud and the “Blue and White” would remove the country from the political stalemate and exclude the religious and leftist voices from the cabinet. In fact, Lieberman said in a statement on social media that he does not intend to address Netanyahu or Gantz, but expects them to accept his own terms for the program the future government should follow: Legislation that will foresee the possibility of civil marriages, public transportation and open shops during the Jewish holiday on the Sabbath, the obligation to recruit Rabbinic students, a faster process of recognizing Jewish descent by city rabbis (and not by the High Rabbi of Israel), enriching the curricula of religious schools in “secular” subjects, such as Physics, Chemistry, General History (and not exclusively Jewish), Geography and Prehistory . So expecting to receive a phone call from Likud and the “Blue and White”, Lieberman persists in his inaction, having doubled his parliamentary strength in relation to the April elections, garnering a significant proportion of right-wing voters that had voted for Likud

Netanyahu, for his part, has made a check mate move, which too has the ultimate goal of forming a national unity government – but without Lieberman’s involvement. On Thursday, he convened a meeting of leaders of the religious and ethno-religious right-wing parties, resulting in a “common right-wing negotiating front” to form a coalition government with the Blue and White. Netanyahu seems to have been able to reassure religious parties that their basic ‘red lines’ (respecting the Sabbath holiday and religious lifestyles) will not be harmed, even if center-left cadres eventually become ministers.

Netanyahu has found yet another ally in his pursuits, which is none other than the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin. In the annual memorial of former President Simon Peres, held on 19 September, Rivlin took advantage of Netanyahu’s and Gandtz’s joint appearance, seizing the opportunity to declare that “he will exert all his influence in forming a government of national unity” , because that is the will of the voters, as shown by the election result. ” The photo of the triple handshake between Rivlin-Netanyahu-Gantz made a sensation in the public arena causing a variety of comments, both positive and negative. Indeed, the President of the country has gone one step further, announcing that he will not wait for the President of the Central Election Commission to deliver the official election results and that he will begin informal meetings with party leaders as early as Sunday, 22 September to end 9-month period without a government. The specific pressure exerted by the President clearly reinforces Netanyahu’s bargaining power – while at the same time narrowing the chances of the election winner, Benny Gantz (if we finally think he actually ‘won’ ..)

Beni Gandz’s position is not easy. In his ‘attack – call for cooperation’ addressed to him by Netanyahu, he responded with a pause, saying that he would wait for the official results and finalization of the number of parliamentary seats, and only then would he set his next steps. But the ‘zero hour’ has already arrived and now it has to be clear whether it will co-operate with Netanyahu or if his refusal will lead the country to fateful elections in March 2020.

Beni Gantz’s position is not easy. In the ‘attack – call for cooperation’ addressed to him by Netanyahu, he responded with a waiting stance, saying that he would wait for the official results and finalization of the number of parliamentary seats, and only then would he set out his next steps. But ‘zero hour’ is already here and now he has to clarify whether he will co-operate with Netanyahu or if his refusal will inevitably lead the country to the third in a row electioral bout in March 2020.

For Gantz, it’s all but easy to decide whether to conitate with Netanyahu. Already, his party partner, Yair Lapid, is promoting his own vetos. Specifically, Lapid said in a statement on social media yesterday that “the only person who is an obstacle to a progressive liberal unity government is Benjamin Netanyahu.” In other words, Lapid supports a coalition government between “Blue and White” – Lieberman, and Likud, but without Netanyahu. And this is clearly not the case, at least not at this time. Perhaps this could be accomplished if there was a question of leadership in Likud’s ranks, apparently through an indictment against him. But for the time to come, when the Attorney General’s office will decide (if it is finally decides), it will have to be several months after October 2, 2019 – the day Netanyahu will submit his written explanations against the legal commissioner’s conclusion. , who had ruled that there were nuanced indications against him of committing corruption offenses.

In other words, Gantz faces a major dilemma: Stay true to his party partner, Yair Lapid, and not co-opt Netanyahu in a future government or become independent, taking with him whatever “Blue and White” Mps are willing to work with Likud and its current leadership? Will he take responsibility for dragging the country into a third electoral race that will further exacerbate the public deficit or take the risk of splitting the “Blue and White” before it even reaches ten months of age? And how will he manage his constituents who gave him the lead in the polls? How will he convince them that he is not betraying their trust?

Against such a political backdrop, it is considered that the “end of the Netanyahu era” hypotheses are a typical case of wishful thinking and it is impressive that they come from political analysis institutes and newspapers that have provided reliable analyses in the past.

On the other hand, it is clear that Benjamin Netanyahu is not going through the most carefree moment of his career. Anything but. The indictment that will bring him to justice – especially on the basis of the broad wording of ‘offenses’ – is a fact that should not be forgotten. However, its issuance is expected to occur after at least ten months from today. And by then, a lot may happen inside Likud. But all this is speculation, and, too premature, at that.

As the current context spell out, only one factor could force the country’s political forces to “put a lot of water into their wine” and allow the formation of a national unity government: Either the Trump peace plan, which calls for territorial concessions by Israel, or the possibility of immediate military action against Iran – provided the United States allows developments to peak dangerously. The first probability, however, is estimated as the most probable.

Next week may solve many puzzles – if not all of them