By Dr Ron Weiser AM
Election number three.
What was different?
Exit polls, having twice underestimated Prime Minister Netanyahu and his block’s number of Knesset seats in April 2019 and September 2019, now overestimated them.
Only by a small number. But a very critical one.
Despite predictions of voter fatigue – turnout has steadily increased over the three elections to a now 20 year record of 71.32%.
What is the same?
The results need to be looked at in two ways.
In the first instance, Netanyahu deserves the accolades of ‘political magician’ and ‘campaign genius’. Despite all of the legal issues facing him, he increased both Likud’s vote of September last year from 32 to 36 seats and his coalition now has 58 seats out of 120 – but he needs 61.
A win, but not a win.
Gantz, essentially looking and feeling like a three times loser now, but not necessarily being one in a few weeks’ time, has a block of 40 (44 last September) with his coalition partners.
That’s 58 to 40 – a loss for Gantz, but maybe not a loss.
The Israeli Arab party – the Joint List – has gone from 10 seats in April last year, to 13 in September and 15 now. More on that later.
And the 4th faction is Lieberman with 7 seats. One down from September.
On this metric, President Rivlin should have little option but to ask Netanyahu to form a government and one could expect that he might be able to pick off 3 members of Gantz’s block to give him a majority.
Certainly on the policy front that presents little obstacle, as there are some members of Gantz’s block whose natural home is really the Likud and who are to the right of Netanyahu.
The other way of looking at the results is the second metric.
58 seats for Netanyahu and 62 seats for the “anyone but Bibi” block.
It may be inconceivable to imagine Lieberman and the Arab Joint List joining together on anything, as they detest and fear each other.
The real question is whether Lieberman hates Netanyahu even more.
And enough to allow a temporary union/non-union with the Israeli Arab party, to oust Netanyahu.
How can this union/non-union work?
Just one way, but there are others, is to support common legislation.
Lieberman has already announced his support for a Blue and White Bill to prevent anyone facing criminal charges from forming a government.
Lieberman said his party is “to move forward with the promotion of two laws: The first law which will limit the tenure of a Prime Minister to two terms. The second law will prevent an MK facing indictment from forming a government.”
Both have as their target – Netanyahu.
There are numerous scenarios that could play out, even a 4th election, especially with Netanyahu scheduled to begin his trial on March 17th.
Or a Gantz led minority government
We will just have to wait and see.
It is interesting to note that in all three elections we have returned more or less to the concept of 2 major parties, supported by their junior coalition partners.
Which in theory still allows the possibility of the old style unity government. In theory – because the barrier here is the personalities involved – not policy.
Parties on the ultra left and right continue to fail electorally.
The Labor/Gesher/Meretz parties have gone from a combined 10 seats in April, to 11 in September and now, united as one party, to a mere 7.
A tragedy for the original founding party of the State, but an indication of how irrelevant they appear to the electorate.
Notwithstanding that some Jewish diaspora groups ridiculously elevate them to hero status, carrying the torch of the supposed ‘real Israel’.
Naphtali Bennett and his parties on the far right continues to perform poorly.
Bennett just failed to pass the threshold in April last year but together with the other Union of Right Wing parties, let’s say they achieved a nominal 8 seats then.
In September led by Ayelet Shaked – 7.
And now just 6 seats.
There is a trend here.
Bennett has however succeeded in hanging in for the longer run. His strategy or self-belief, being that he will be the natural leader of the right wing block in the post Netanyahu era.
In one way it was good that the Kahanist like party Otzma was allowed to run, because it exposed their electoral weakness, achieving only 19,334 votes in total.
There’s going to be a lot of talk about what democracy actually is and the “will of the people” vis a vis the “will of the ‘unelected’ courts”.
What these words mean and how to define these concepts and resolve the dynamic between a democratic election and the operation of the legal system, will form much of the debate to come.
The one dramatic change in electoral strength as outlined above, has been the rise of the Israeli Arab vote.
Today, the third largest party in the Knesset as represented by the Joint List – an amalgam of quite different from each other Arab parties, led by the charismatic and politically savvy, Ayman Odeh and prominent faction chairman Ahmad Tibi.
It means that Arab citizens of Israel are increasingly participating in Israel’s democracy and choosing to be part of the fabric of Israel.
Their vote increased for 3 main reasons: principally the rising percentage of Arab Israelis deciding to vote, from 49% of those eligible in April to 67% this time; the decision by Arab voters to vote more exclusively for the Joint List rather than for mainstream Jewish parties; and some Jewish voters disillusioned with Meretz and Labor voting for the Arab party.
It is well past time that some Jewish groups both here in Australia and elsewhere – to emphasise, we’re talking about Jewish groups doing this – cease describing Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs if you prefer, as Palestinian Arabs.
They are not. They are citizens of Israel. And want to be.
Ironically it is these Jewish groups that try to create the idea of a separation that Israeli Arabs do not actually seek.
If anything the Trump plan pushed Israeli Arabs out to vote in larger numbers precisely because their worst nightmare is one element of the plan – something it should be noted which has been rejected by Israeli Arabs, Netanyahu and Gantz. This is the notion that Israeli Arabs will find themselves, by the redrawing of final borders, inside a future Palestinian State and outside of Israel.
As one Israeli Arab leader is reported to have said: “We prefer to suffer in the Israeli hell than to enjoy the Palestinian paradise”.
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.