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Israel’s Elections: Opinion Piece

Dr. Ron Weiser AM 

In the end, the people of Israel voted for Prime Minister Netanyahu “Mr Security-Mr Statesman,” over Bibi with all of his human shortcomings. And they did so in the full knowledge of all of the allegations hanging over him.

This turned out to be in fact Netanyahu’s biggest win in any of his 5 election victories. Those who did not wish to see him as Prime Minister attempt to portray the election results as close. To do so is mostly wishful thinking on their part. The true extent of his victory is not in the head to head count between Blue & White and Likud.

Only now as the parties troop to the office of President Rivlin to offer their support for either Netanyahu or Gantz for PM, is Netanyahu’s win better understood.

65 (out of 120) members of the Knesset support Netanyahu for Prime Minister, yet only 45 support Gantz. This is an overwhelming margin by any standards in any democratic country. It is such a decisive win which even the President, should he so wish, would be extremely hard-pressed to work against. However, the makeup of the 65 also turns out to be Netanyahu’s biggest immediate problem, even before the legal issues to come.

Firstly, some observations.

This was an election that saw the extreme left and the extreme right suffer significant losses – but the extreme left more so. The Labor Party was also humbled and suffered a massive fall in support for what was once the leading party in Israel. Unless they can bring a new agenda which is in touch with the people, their future is limited.

One quite large shift that many in the diaspora have not yet caught up with is that seemingly the term ‘centre-left’ now has new meaning. Gantz who publically stands for a united Jerusalem, retention of the settlement blocks, Israeli sovereignty on the Golan and a declaration that Israel’s eastern security border will be the Jordan River is invariably described by the media and commentators as ‘centre-left’.

Moreover, throughout the campaign, Gantz consistently refused to mention the words ‘two states’. Announcement of those type of policies at one time led to one being called ‘right wing’ or even ‘extreme right-wing’.

The most prominent other ex IDF general in Gantz’s Blue and White party – Boogie Ya’alon – is opposed to Oslo and vehemently opposed to a Palestinian State ever emerging under any circumstances. Throw in Yoaz Hendel and the Blue and White party looks like a strange form of traditional ‘centre leftists’.

The mood and the feelings in Israel have changed – mugged by reality if you like – and the diaspora needs to get better in tune with just where and why Israelis feel as they do – whether they voted for Netanyahu or Gantz – whose actual policies on security were not that dissimilar.

On social policy, despite Netanyahu himself seeming to lead an elitist life of some privilege, it was the lower socioeconomic layers of Israeli society – the poorer towns, those on the periphery – who overwhelmingly voted for him. Where one would have expected the Labor party to reach this demographic, it just was not so. And neither did Gantz, who did much better in the more affluent areas.

In general, what people saw was ten years of relative calm, ten years of relative prosperity, stability and the ability of Netanyahu to command and strut the world stage. Gantz and Netanyahu both sucked votes from their respective potential future partners and in the case of Netanyahu the effect on potential thorns in his side was dramatic.

Both Bennet from the New Right party and Feiglin from Zehut, failed to pass the threshold on the latest but not final count and will not be in the next Knesset. This could not have pleased Netanyahu more, based on past relations.

The move to the right is even greater if one takes into account the number of lost votes that went to Bennet and Shaked on the one hand and Feiglin on the other. Quite another amazing factor and one which really bears further analysis, is just how and/or why it was that Netanyahu received tangible support for re-election from both Presidents Trump and Putin.

Aside from Trump’s earlier pro-Israel actions, during the election campaign, he recognised that Israel should have sovereignty on the Golan and proscribed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.

Putin, almost out of nowhere it seemed, returned the remains of Zachary Baumel z”l, 37 years after he was killed in 1982 in the Lebanon War. The efforts that this involved with the Syrian government and who knows who else, demonstrated Russian abilities. Putin’s willingness to do so during an election campaign, which he well knew would assist Netanyahu on numerous levels, is a statement in itself.

It also turns out that Egypt’s Al Sisi informed Hamas that if Netanyahu is re-elected, they would get their ‘arrangement’ with Israel. In a Middle Eastern way, it seems Hamas were rooting for Netanyahu as well.

So with all of this, what is Netanyahu’s immediate problem? In two words, Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman, contrary to all opinion polls, ended up with 5 seats. Lieberman has at times been in previous Netanyahu governments and at other times has either not joined Netanyahu coalitions or has later left them – and to repeat – he has 5 seats. Lieberman has already recommended Netanyahu for Prime Minister to President Rivlin – giving Netanyahu the 65 seats and ensuring that Rivlin will invite Netanyahu to form a government.

The problem for Netanyahu is that Lieberman has also stated that he will play hardball in the coalition negotiations and will insist on the Haredi Draft Bill going through and separation of religion and state. Of course, Netanyahu’s much larger Haredi party allies will object to this.

Lieberman has said that this is a deal breaker.

Whatever one wants to say about Lieberman, he has a very consistent policy platform over many years and he sticks to it. Without Lieberman, Netanyahu only has 60 seats, which does not a majority make. Lieberman is cunning, intelligent and knows how to play hardball.

This is the pickle Netanyahu is in and the way in which he negotiates the competing aims on drafting Haredim et al within his potential coalition is the main game ahead. How he must wish that Lieberman got just one less seat and someone else, anyone else in his potential coalition, one more.

Assuming that Netanyahu gets his coalition over the line, dependant on Lieberman’s whim – and that’s a big assumption – he will then go on to surpass Ben Gurion’s record of longest serving PM around July. In the interim we will almost certainly finally get to see Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ and then just what it has in store for Israel and whether that will possibly strain the coalition and whether Netanyahu will need to consider approaching Gantz or not.

Of course for Gantz, the big challenge will be to hold his Blue and White party together long enough to face another election.

And the question is, whether/when we get that far, and if it is post-indictment, what will some of Netanyahu’s partners do. At that point, they will really be faced with the difficult question over Netanyahu’s legal situation. For the moment, that is all further into the distance – let’s first see how Netanyahu deals with Lieberman.

Chag Pesach Kasher v’Sameach

Dr Ron Weiser AM

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.