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Avoiding fourth elections in Israel?

Israel’s third round of general elections in a year didn’t resolve the political crisis at the heart of the Israeli polity, writes Abdel-Alim Mohamed

Abdel-Alim Mohamed , Tuesday 17 Mar 2020
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The 23rd Israeli elections, which were held 2 March 2020, didn’t achieve their objective, of bringing about a clear and decisive victory for any of the big competing blocs in the Israeli political scene — principally, the Likud and the Blue and White Alliance — enabling the formation of a government through a coalition that attains the confidence of 61 Knesset members. The results saw the Likud winning 36 seats, more than the Blue and White Alliance that won 33 seats. In total, the nationalist right wing and religious parties won 58 seats, the centre and leftist parties won 47 seats, while the Arab Joint List won 15 seats.

ELECTION RESULTS AND REALITY: From a legal and formal perspective, the results grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu precedence to form the next government since his bloc won the biggest number of seats and the right-wing camp, which he led, won 58 seats. Netanyahu remains, however, three seats short of the number he needs. The complications of the current Israeli political scene make Netanyahu’s task of forming a government even more fraught than in previous elections.

The national unity option between the Likud and Blue and White is excluded until now, according to statements made by a number of figures of both blocs. The former sees there is no chance to form a government with Gantz after Gantz rejected this following the 22nd elections and the Likud’s winning enough seats to form the government. The latter sees removing Netanyahu from the Israeli political scene is his first and foremost objective, because he promotes division and polarisation in Israeli society, and the Blue and White bloc’s figures refuse to join a government formed by Netanyahu.

On the other hand, Avigdor Lieberman’s party, which won seven seats, is still adamant in its stance, which it announced time and again, that it refuses to join a government with the Haredim and the religious right allied with Netanyahu, which still constitutes an inseparable part of forming the next government. 

In addition, the Blue and White’s alliance with Lieberman’s party announced their intention to propose legislation to the Knesset on its first session, 16 March, to ban any person formally charged with corruption from forming the Israeli government. This legislation is backed by the Arab Joint List which won 15 seats. Its leaders said that they intend to support the legislation in order to block Netanyahu from forming the government.

NETANYAHU’S TRIAL AND ITS POSSIBLE IMPACT: Netanyahu’s trial will begin 17 March. As some of Netanyahu’s opponents say, Israel will face a difficult situation were Netanyahu to form the government, for the prime minister would go to defend himself in court in the morning and would head the State Security Cabinet and the government in the afternoon. It is an indecent and even unprecedented situation, especially that Netanyahu himself criticised Ehud Olmert and demanded he should resign as the head of the government when he was formally charged and agreed on legislation that some Knesset members intended to propose against him.

Naturally, the trial procedures might be prolonged and it might continue for two or three years because the court will ask for witnesses and go through investigations and documents all necessary for a fair trial, as well as the exhaustion of all degrees of litigation as Israeli law stipulates regarding the charged prime minister. However, this would have big repercussions concerning the prime minister’s viability and the public confidence he enjoys. Furthermore, the opposition won’t spare any effort to benefit from this unprecedented situation in Israeli politics and it might destabilise the Likud members’ trust in Netanyahu when light will be shed on the details of the charges he faces. 

COUNTING ON DISSIDENTS: Netanyahu faces a possibility — albeit a weak one — of completing the 61-seat majority needed to form a government by counting on some dissidents in the Blue and White Alliance or the Labour-Gesher-Meretz Alliance under the pressure of extortion or promises of ministerial positions in the government to be formed. Some Likud members are talking about leaks of taped conversations in which some Blue and White Alliance members criticise Gantz, describing him as “stupid and total loser”. In the light of Lieberman’s refusal to join a government formed by Netanyahu with the religious parties included, and the insistence of the Blue and White Alliance on the principle of a Jewish majority forming the government (ie excluding the Joint Arab List’s Knesset members), dissidents may be Netanyahu’s only hope. 

The third legislative elections in a year, held 2 March, didn’t solve the current crisis in Israel because it didn’t exclude the possibility of going for a fourth round of legislative elections. This ominous possibility is still hanging over the Israeli political scene until now, unless a miracle occurs whereby Netanyahu is able to form the government, or that the president of the state entrusts the Knesset to appoint whom it deems fit to execute this mission and spare holding elections for a fourth time, deepening the instability that is hindering decisions.

Nonetheless, 11th-hour negotiations resulted in the possibility of avoiding fourth elections. Gantz won the endorsement of 61 Knesset members. Fifteen of the recommendations came from the alliance of Arab parties, and seven from each of Lieberman’s party and the Labour-Meretz faction. This alliance aims to remove Netanyahu from the Israeli political stage and saving Israel from instability. Gantz’s success relies on his ability to restore unity, avoid divisions, and fulfilling the demands Arab citizens requested during negotiations.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the  19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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