Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fateful elections or business as usual? Israeli Elections September 2019

By F.F. Dawkins - September 16, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [elections]

Israeli politics are in troubled times. For the first time since the existence of the Israeli state, the winning party Likud with his head and current interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition, leading to the second elections this year, on 17 September.

For the past two weeks, both primary opponents, Likud with Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White (Kachol Lavan), led by Benny Gantz are in a neck-and-neck race. Latest polls suggest that the two competing parties will both achieve the same number of seats, making the chances for a possible government led by a right-wing Likud-led coalition or a centrist Blue and White-led coalition diminishingly low.

This trend has become more and more evident in the past week, which led to a dirty bid race for votes from the far-right spectrum. Benjamin Netanyahu, in fear of being dethroned, proceeded to sharpen its already virulent rhetoric making big promises to the far-right.

He has repeated his vow to annex settlements in the West Bank, made a controversial historical visit to the occupied old city of Hebron and continued to attack Israeli Palestinians. 

Only last week his bureau released a Facebook post in which it stated that it is in the voter's interest to avoid a left-wing government with “Arabs who want to destroy us all – women, children and men – and allow a nuclear Iran that will kill”.

Mkaimer Abusada, Professor for Political Science at the Al-Azhar University in Gaza said in an interview with Palestine Monitor, “Netanyahu is struggling very hard to keep the support from the far-right Likud supporters, that’s why he is making all these promises to annex settlements in the West Bank”.

Despite his provocative statements and questionable actions in this election campaign, Netanyahu has not made a sustainable gain in votes yet which would secure him a majority coalition with the Yamina and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Because of the stalemate of the two opponents, all eyes are on Avigdor Lieberman and his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Abusada thinks that Lieberman will play an essential role in the future government. 

“Lieberman has previously made some progress in votes, making his party a relevant player. He might be the future kingmaker for a future government,” Abusada asserted.

Many blamed Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition government in April on a draft law proposed by Lieberman, which planned to remove the current exemption of ultra-Orthodox  Haredi yeshiva students from military conscription. 

The only promising alternative to the long-lasting reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is Benny Gantz with his Blue and White party, which is a joint list of the centristic parties Jesch Atid, Chosen LeJisra’el and Telem.

The two-party leaders, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, vowed to rotate the premiership if they can form the next government, with Gantz serving the first half of the leadership and Lapid the last of it. Gantz further repeatedly stated that he won't join a government coalition with Likud while Benjamin Netanyahu is still the head of the party.

In many people’s eyes, Gantz’s and his party have been perceived as a more moderate alternative to the current far-right-wing government. Nevertheless, with his repeated vows to keep illegal settlement blocs in the West Bank and his promises to take a harder stance towards Hamas - it seems that he is just a softer version of the current government.

Ghassan Khatib, a Political analysist and Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University explained that there are no significant differences between the two leading parties when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“These two parties have many serious differences regarding internal Israeli issues, but not when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they both have very similar policies when it comes to the occupation and the settlements,” Khatib told Palestine Monitor.

He further explained that “I don’t think any of these two Israeli parties are serious with their Palestinian policies. Therefore, I don’t think either of them will enhance possible negotiations, because negotiations include the ending of the occupation, and none of them wants this.”

An example which underscores this claim is the recent rejection of Gantz’s party towards a possible governing collation with the Joint Arab List. Since the 2015 election, the four Arab-Israeli parties (Balad, Hadash, Ta'al and the United Arab List) have joined the coalition and became the third-largest party in Israel. Only before the election in April, the Joint Arab List split, which led to a competing situation between the Arab-Israeli parties, and a diminished seat outcome. 

For the election in September, the reformed Joint Arab List has, according to the latest polls, a good chance to become the third-biggest party gain as many votes as in 2015. 

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, stated in an interview that he would be open to joining a possible governing coalition with Benny Gantz under particular circumstances.

In an interview with the Times of Israel, Odeh said that Gantz and Lapid would need to “show us they are willing to negotiate peace with the [Ramallah-based] Palestinian leadership, support equality for all citizens including Arabs, increase budgets to the local authorities in Arab villages and cancel the nation-state law”. In reaction to this statement, Yair Lapid ruled out any chance for future cooperation with the Joint Arab List.

General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr Mustafa Barghouti, said in an interview with Palestine Monitor that “Ayman Odeh’s statement was very clear. The conditions were that they would need to abolish racist law and that they stop the occupation. This offer was an excellent tool to embarrass Gantz and to show the true nature of his party.” 

However, as it looks now, no party will gain a majority to form a sustainable governing coalition. Therefore, besides the heavy fought election campaign, the real bargaining will start after Tuesday.

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