The Israeli Election for the 22nd Knesset September 2019

The election is over and I believe the results are more or less clear, though there is a slim possibility that the late counting of IDF votes could shift the results, but, in my estimation, not enough to make a significant difference.

Observations

  1. The polls were accurate. Contrary to early expectations that Netanyahu would eke out a small right-wing majority, and like a magician pull the rabbit of victory out of the electoral hat, polls from various aggregated media sources predicted that Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud’s party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party would both win 32 seats apiece. And each more or less did, though Likud won only 31 seats and Blue and White won 33 seats. In that fact alone, the image of Bibi as a magician has been destroyed.
  2. It was a neck-and-neck race between Benny Gantz’s centrist or centrist-right Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) (though some dub it a centre-left party since it supports negotiations with the Palestinians and a two-state solution) and Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud
  3. No party, given the results, can form a winning coalition of 61 seats for the moment.
  4. Nevertheless, contrary to many predictions, though the race was very close, it is not nearly as muddled as it was after the April vote.
  5. If Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu – Israel Is Our Home) keeps his promise, and there is no reason to suspect that he will not, he will not throw his 8 seats in support of Netanyahu’s Likud, unless Netanyahu bails on Shas with 9 seats and United Torah Judaism with 8 seats – a highly unlikely prospect. With the two religious parties, Netanyahu has 49 seats. Without the religious parties and with Lieberman, he would only control 41 seats. With Yamina, those totals would increase to 56 and 48 respectively.
  6. Voting patterns also indicated that Likud only managed to eke out its 31 seats by bleeding from another more right-wing party, Shaked’s Yamina Party. For example, in Kiryat Arba, 54% supported Shaked’s New Right, the antecedent to Yamina, but only 32% in September. By taking blood from Yamina, Likud was only able to maintain itself at 33% of the vote.
  7. The role of Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel is over.
  8. The Likud in April got 35 seats and, when merged with Kulanu, had 39; six months later, it has only 31. It was an ignominious defeat.
  9. But not for the right which collected 38 seats (Likud + Yamina). Add Beiteinu’s 8 seats and the two religious parties (17 seats) and the right totals 64 seats even though the religious parties cannot participate in the same government with Lieberman. This does not take into consideration that many consider Blue and Right as a right of centre party. Though Likud clearly loss, the right in general was the winner.
  10. In spite of the demise of Bibi, Trump’s image did not seem to suffer as a majority of Israelis, contrary to any other state in the world, including the USA, continues to give Donald Trump a favourable rating.
  11. A unity government is only possible if Netanyahu resigns as leader of Likud yielding a coalition of Likud + Kahol Lavan + Lieberman = 72 seats. This is explicitly and unequivocally Lieberman’s preference and he has stated that he will not sit with any other party. Lapid, Gantz’s partner, has said “no” to Netanyahu but “Yes” to Likud without him. Gantz: “The country went to the polls and made a clear decision – unity. Blue and White won the elections and is the largest party. My intention is to form a broad unity government headed by me, reflecting the people’s choice and our basic promises to the public.”
  12.  Alternatively, and possibly more likely, Kahol Lavan could include Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor and the Democratic Union for 52 seats and perhaps tacit support (and even a coalition – is this wishful thinking on my part?) from the Arab Joint List to have a government with 65 seats supporting it. (Gantz admitted speaking to Ayman Odeh of the Joint List at 3:00 a.m. Israeli time on the morning after the election, but Odeh stated that their conversation contained nothing new and he believes the practice of delegitimizing Israeli-Arabs in politics would continue.) Alternatively, Gantz could make a bid to get some elected Likud members and perhaps part of Yamina to join his government, but the latter is very unlikely as Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett seem to prefer to position their party as an alternative to Likud. Besides, Hayamin Hehadash, that is part of Yamina, would not sit in a Gantz-led government alongside the left and Yamina has already notified President Rivlin that that the party will split and revert to the New Right and Jewish Home parties.
  13.  Odeh has, however, stated that he would prefer a unity government so that he could become leader of the opposition.
  14. Yamina, Labor-Gesher led by Amir Peretz and the Democratic Union of Meretz led by Tamar Zandberg, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Labor’s Stav Shaffir, with Nitzan Horowitz as the new leader, all cleared the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.
  15.  Nevertheless, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union, the remnant of the left in Israel, have been effectively politically sidelined and are no longer viewed as part of the core Israeli consensus, even while maintaining critical leading positions in academia, the arts and the media. That marginality will likely be reflected in the ministerial positions they will be offered. Revital Amiran’s insistence that the left was undergoing a renewal now appears as part of dreamworks rather than reality. Zandberg of Meretz would have to back off his opposition to annexation of the Golan Heights.
  16. None of these “adjustments” will impact on the moves for egalitarianism for Israeli Arabs that is increasingly championed by the Arab List, but certainly will undercut any substantive move for a two-state solution, or, more accurately, a two-state solution with security, but, in the minds of the critics of the left, only security-lite.
  17.  How will the left and centrists deal with the seeming reality that, in the fight for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they have lost; that possibility only continues to live with the help of life-support technical and foreign help? The combination of: a) the horrific outcome in Gaza following Israel’s withdrawal; b) increased Jewish settlements in the West Bank that cannot any longer be reversed in any reasonable political scenario; c) the stubborn resistance, blindness and intransigence of Abbas; d) the increasing preoccupation of Western states with their own internal problems and the shift to both populism and the right; e) and, most significant of all perhaps, the love affair with Israel as the exemplar start-up nation, all have conspired to undercut the thrust for self-determination for the Palestinians.
  18. The extreme right-wing Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, which advocates ethnic cleansing and the elimination of Gaza, won only 1.88% of the vote, contrary to some fears, and did not meet the minimal electoral threshold of 3.25%. Did Netanyahu suffer politically by opening a possible door to their inclusion in an Israeli government? Bezalel Smotrich from Yamina attacked Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of Otzma, for “wasting” right wing votes.
  19.  The Arab Joint List with 13 seats became the third largest party in the Knesset. In the April election, without a Joint List, Hadash-Ta’al won 6 seats and Ra’am-Balad won 4 for a total of 10 seats. The Arab parties running on a Joint List once again helped get out the vote and win more seats. Jewish volunteers helped to get the Bedouin to voting booths. Netanyahu’s explicit attacks against the Arabs, including the preposterous unsubstantiated charges of Arab voter fraud and a proposal to put cameras in Arab-Israeli voting booths, may also have driven the Arabs to vote in increased numbers.
  20. In the election, the only explicit fraud documented was by Likud. A Likud member was caught stuffing a ballot box at a polling station in the northern Arab Israeli village of Fureidis.
  21. The extra three seats for the Arab List in this election were likely the result of a combination of increased turnout of 60% (in the April election, turnout fell to a historic low of 49%), a pattern enhanced by new efforts of Arab-Israeli NGOs to encourage voting period, no matter what the choice, plus some switch from the 28.6% of the Arab vote that went to a Jewish-led party, over half almost equally to Meretz and Blue and White. If the latter was the case, this will have contradicted the predictions of Eihab Kadah, Director of Research in Arab society at Midgam Consulting and Research, that depression, lack of hope and dissatisfaction with their own leaders would increase support for Jewish-led parties. That only happened with the Druze. Evidently, an estimated 80% of Druzim voted for Blue and White, almost directly a result of Netanyahu’s nation-state law.
  22.  If the Joint List explicitly or tacitly supports the Blue and White Party, Gantz could become Prime Minister. Ayman Odeh has signaled that it is time for a Jewish-Arab partnership and that, under certain conditions, he would consider becoming part of a government coalition that made civil majoritarianism rather than Jewish majoritarianism the basic premise. This would expand the precedent set by the Rabin government. Odeh in an op-ed in The New York Times (8 March 2019) wrote, “there is no electoral math that leads to victory for a center-left-wing coalition without the participation of the Arab parties” as once again Arab-Israelis have emerged as “a political force that cannot be ignored.” Incidentally, 80% of Arab voters support a coalition that includes Arab-Israelis.
  23.  Yair Lapid’s promise not to form a government with the Arab parties might now turn around to slap him in the face, though he could step back by insisting he was only opposed to a coalition with an Arab-Israeli party that included Balad, a radical pan-Arab nationalist party. It is my conviction that the most important effect of this election is that it will mark a significant turning point in the move towards equal status for Israeli Palestinians.
  24. If Netanyahu refuses to step down as leader of Likud, as expected, then the possibility of a centrist national union government will disappear for the short term.
  25. Netanyahu will face prosecution in the next month, but Gantz may dangle absolution in return for his resignation as leader of Likud, though this may be hard to square with the party’s explicit commitment to the rule of law. In any case, the immunity law for sitting Knesset members and the High Court Bypass Law will also be dead.
  26.  Though the economy and security are usually the main issues in an Israeli election followed by policies with respect to the West Bank, it does not appear that Netanyahu’s last-minute pitches about spreading Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank had any significant effect on the vote between right and left.

At 2:37 Friday morning Israeli time, the Central Election Committee (CEC) announced the “almost final” results of the 17 September 2019 election…Over 4,431,000 votes were cast in the 99% of the votes. The turnout was 69.7%. The electoral threshold for a party to win seats was 3.25% of the votes cast.

Based on 93% of votes counted and a 69.4% turnout at 8:33 a.m. Eastern Canadian time (13:33 Israeli time), though the percentages came at an earlier time, the results were as follows:

Party Seats % Party Seats %
Kahol Lavan 33 25.93 Likud 31 25.09
Joint List 13 10.62 Shas   9   7.44
Labor-Gesher   6   4.80 United Torah Judaism   8   6.06
Democratic Union   5   4.34 Yamina   7   5.88
           
Total 57 45.69       55 44.47
     
Yisrael Beiteinu   8   6.99 Votes for other parties   0   2.85
  65 52.68     100.0

With the help of Alex Zisman

A fuller analysis of the election results will be included in a subsequent blog.

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