As most people know, Israelis headed to the polls today to elect their next Prime Minister.
I, for one, couldn’t help but feel an intense sense of deja vu. Didn’t we go through this two years ago? Yes, indeed we did.
Such is the nature of parliamentary governments. A few months ago, the previous governing coalition fell apart, and new elections were scheduled.
Despite how many in the media (both in Israel and abroad) have portrayed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral position, exit polls now almost guarantee a victory by his Likud Party over Buji Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin explains how the results are far from a radical departure from the past as follows:
“Despite all the talk of this election marking a revolutionary change, the results show a degree of political stasis. The right-wing parties held their own when compared to 2009 and 2013 and the left led by Herzog gained almost nothing. The ultra-Orthodox party kept their share of the vote. Even the Joint Arab list, which now appears to have attained the status of the country’s third largest party only gained two seats over the 11 its three components (Islamists, Communists and radical Arab nationalists) won separately in the previous two elections and will almost certainly split apart again within days of the votes being counted.”
For those who needed further proof that politics is never boring, consider that, a mere 12 hours before the election, Tzipi Livni announced that she was forgoing a rotating Prime Ministership with Herzog, despite that fact that this is what made their union so unique in the first place.
As it turns out, rumors of Bibi’s demise were greatly exaggerated. In my mind, the predictions some were making of Likud netting only 20 seats actually serve to make it all the more remarkable that Netanyahu is either going to (most likely) tie or outright win (winning solely meaning that he will net the largest amount of seats, since there is still the matter of building the coalition).
All of this suggests that Obama’s efforts to undermine Netanyahu by sending Jeremy Bird to help elect “anyone but Bibi” have failed (this effort, by the way, is almost certainly illegal). And they said Netanyahu giving a speech was a “breach of protocol”? How about Obama sending his National Field Director to unseat a sitting Prime Minister?
The odds are that Bibi remains Prime Minister. What remains to be seen is how he gets to 60 seats in the Knesset.
And that, is the topic of a different post down the road.
(For a story about an American special election that happened while I was in Israel, look no further)
I wrote at the beginning of this post that this all seems too familiar, so here is the post I wrote two years ago after Israel’s previous election for my high school paper:
The votes have been cast, and the results are known: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won reelection, as I predicted (although that wasn’t too hard). Netanyahu achieved what he wanted by securing his third term. There were other parties, individuals and groups that won in their own way or just failed catastrophically. The direction Netanyahu’s government will take remains to be seen, but the winners and losers of today’s elections will certainly play a significant role.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud: Bibi is now one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in Israeli history. Despite running a fairly lackluster campaign managed to lead Likud to the strongest finish of any party on Election Day.
Yair Lapid: Yesh Atid came in second, holding an estimated 19 seats. I still remember the day on which he announced his candidacy last year, and certain pundits actually predicted he might win the election. Although Lapid’s centrist party did not come in first, he now has tremendous power in terms of negotiating concessions from Netanyahu in a potential coalition government. 2013 was not Lapid’s year, but 2017 may well be.
Naftali Bennett: Bait Yehudi came in third, and Bennett, Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff, has cemented himself as the foremost leader on the political Right in Israel. Despite knowing that he would not come in first, Bennett campaigned on being a check on Netanyahu’s power from the right, and he seems certain to do so. There is no doubt that Bennett, who is opposed to a two-state solution and in favor of unrestricted construction in the West Bank lies far to Netanyahu’s political Right. Given that Bait Yehudi will almost certainly become a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, it will be interesting to see what Bennett, the multi-millionaire, will choose to do with his newfound political powers.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud: But Bibi won the election, right? Why is he also in the group with the losers? Although Likud won a plurality of the votes, its position is much weaker than it was in the previous election. As a result, it will need to seek broader political support in forming its coalition.
The collective Israeli Left: A complete lack of cohesion, combined with massive egos prevented the Left from mounting any form of coherent opposition to Netanyahu. It further cemented its own fate by limiting its focus to “kitchen table” issues, as opposed to national security ones, even though Israel’s economy is relatively strong given the economic downturn. Had the Left run on a coherent message, and as one, rather than several parties, it might have had a chance at an electoral victory. Instead Israel’s Left is now faced with four more years as a minority party.
Israeli-Arabs: Exit polls project that had Israeli-Arabs voted in substantial numbers, the outcome of the election would have been drastically different. Instead, dismal turnout of Israel’s Arab population helped the Right maintain its majority.
Where will Israel go from here? Netanyahu has already promised “as broad a government as possible,” but the question remains: what will that entail? Most of the parties on the Left seem opposed to the very idea of working in a coalition with Netanyahu, so that leaves the religious Right, Bait Yehudi and Yair Lapid’s centrist party, Yesh Atid.
My personal hope is for a coalition government that will consist of the following three parties: the Likud-Beiteinu alliance, Yesh Atid, and Bait Yehudi. This combination of parties puts Netanyahu over the threshold of the 60 seats that is required, and the balance between centrist and rightist elements will, at least in my mind, achieve this goal in the most beneficial way for Israel. Absent from that list were parties constituting the religious Right, such as Shas and United Torah Judaism. Simply put, they had their chance in Netanyahu’s previous government, and they prioritized issues that I, for one, do not deem crucial to Israel’s future. Israel’s national security is of paramount importance and can not be infringed upon, and the attention Shas pays to religious issues is a distraction from this.
Despite Bennett’s steadfast opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians, it is not realistic to believe there will be none, given the nature of Netanyahu’s government. Yesh Atid’s centrist tendencies will balance out Bennett’s ultra-nationalist ones, and at the end of the day, neither Lapid nor Bennett has the reigns of power. Those belong to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu alone.
Realistically, do I believe that Netanyahu will forgo the alliance he has formed with those on the religious Right? No. Do I realistically think that Lapid will opt to enter Netanyahu’s government? That is less predictable. One thing I am virtually certain of is that one name we will be hearing a lot more of is Naftali Bennett, and if Yair Lapid plays his cards right, he may well be on his way to the Prime Ministership.