Beyond the Cusp

September 24, 2019

Reflections on the Latest Israeli Elections

 

Israel went to the polls again on September 17, and voted a near identical result to the April elections leading to a better than average chance that no government will be able to be formed. So many of the reviews we have come across have interpreted this completely wrong. Most are claiming that the Israeli democracy is illogical and defective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who got it correct realized that the problem is that the population is relatively evenly divided. We already covered here the real reason why forming a coalition is so difficult, explaining that because of one group of parties which are outliers backing neither major party forces, any government needs to realize well over the fifty percent plus one usually required in any normative election in a parliamentary government. This is not a detractor of the Israeli parliamentary democracy and the vibrancy of our democracy. The elections were simply a realistic representation of a country divided almost evenly in their view of what the future of Israel should steer towards.

 

BTC Israeli Election Banner

 

We agree that part of the problem is fatigue over Bibi Netanyahu leading to some simply supporting anybody who appears to have a better than even chance of replacing him. But the claims that the divide is between right-wing and left-wing is not a completely honest means of defining what is occurring. The first thing which needs to be addressed is what exactly is meant by right-wing and left-wing in Israeli politics. Yes, part of it is over economic outlooks and the separation between preferences for Capitalism against Socialism, but this is actually far from the central dividing issue. The real divides come from two separate but interdependent divides in the Israeli populace. The main divide is between religious and secular with the other main divide being nationalists and Zionists who are opposed by internationalists and those still holding onto the idea of a Palestinian Arab state and the two-state-solution. Then we have the political allies often referred to as the Joint Arab List which also includes Communists, Arab nationalists, secularism, Pan-Arabism, Eco-socialists, Islamists and other traditional left-wing causes. The mandates garnered by this list traditionally have not supported any candidate for Prime Minister or named one of the leaders from the group of parties making up this faction. This, more than anything else, is the exact reason that there has been no definitive result. This is also one of the most obvious reasons that the Israeli democracy is functioning in a representative fashion and is providing the exact result that represents her people, a deeply divided people.

 

There is the possibility that the Blue White Party and Likud could form a unity government completely free of requiring the support of any other party. This is the main reason why Avigdor Lieberman’s claim that he would join a unity government and be commanding one of the principle centers of power. He has claimed that without him there could not be a unity government. Apparently Avigdor Lieberman is incapable of doing simple mathematics such as adding together thirty-three and thirty-one and realizing that is more than sixty-one. Since those are the results for Blue-White and Likud, it should be obvious that those two together could form a government. So, what is the hang up preventing such, is it political, personal or simply ego?

 

Part of the reason is political as should Bibi actually agree to such an arrangement, the Likud Party would bleed voters in significant numbers to vote for parties which are either more religious, nationalist or Zionist than the Likud such as the parties which made up Yamina; Jewish Home, National Union–Tkuma and New Right. Such a change could prove to be seismic should Bibi ally with Gantz. This would represent a similar situation as when Ariel Sharon bolted Likud forming Kadima in order to allow him to agree to President Bush’s and Condoleezza Rice’s plan for the Gaza withdrawal. This caused a split in the Likud Party which Bibi has been able to reverse over the last two elections. Furthermore, Blue White leader, ‎Benny Gantz‎, has already declared that he would only agree to a unity government only if he was made Prime Minister as his party received the most mandates. This would be ignoring that the so-called right-wing parties received more mandates than the left-wing parties. Further, there is no way Bibi will join any coalition which he does not lead. Once more, egos are getting in the way of any feasible solution.

 

President Rivlin, who has the undesirable task of deciding who will be given the first opportunity to form a coalition, has intimated that he would fall just short of knocking heads together to force a government being formed and avoiding yet a third election in under one year. He is facing the problem that the right-wing parties are unable to form a government without Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party. The problem is if Bibi were to agree to Lieberman’s demands, he would lose the Haredi Parties and still be unable to form a coalition. Were Gantz given the nod, the only way he could form a coalition would be if the Joint Arab List were to agree to sit in with him. The problem is that Avigdor Lieberman has expressly stated he would not sit in a coalition with the Arab parties which would again prevent a coalition. Were Lieberman to change his mind and agree to sit in a government with the Arab parties, his Yisrael Beiteinu Party would splinter as it has a large number of nationalists who would not take well to joining a government with the Arab parties included. This would lead to either the end of Yisrael Beiteinu or their replacing Avigdor Lieberman as their leader. Either choice would be political suicide for Lieberman who is too crafty a politician to make such a blunder. So, without hammering Bibi and Benny into submission, it appears that there is not much that President Rivlin can do to force a government.

 

So, the vibrant Israeli democracy will very probably be heading for new elections once again. This will again be a reason to claim that the Israeli democracy has failed and could be considered dead. The reality is that the Israeli democracy is working exactly as it should and is representing the fractured Israeli populace quite accurately. Just because a ruling coalition appears to be escaping reality and becoming near an impossibility is no reason to claim that the democracy has failed, perhaps it is just very accurate in representing and displaying the point at which we find Israel today. If anything is broken, it is not our democracy or any of the other claims which you may have read elsewhere. What is actually broken are the complaints that democracy has failed Israel. Perhaps it is simply jealousy over the fact that the Israelis are being served well by their democracy as it represents the splits between the numerous factions which make up the various parties. One last note, nobody we have had conversations with has complained that their lives are being impacted by not having an actual government and are instead being ruled by a Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and a number of Likud Ministers who are in the cabinet plus Rafi Peretz from Jewish Home as Education Minister and Bezalel Smotrich from National Union–Tkuma as Transportation Minister, who are making any choices and will protect Israel should she be attacked. It may even be this combination making the decisions over any response to an attack upon Israel which will prevent such an eventuality from coming to fruition. Maybe not having a ruling coalition and a normal government by the world’s standards will prove to be the best thing which could happen to Israel in these turbulent times.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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