Following Israeli election returns is not for the faint of heart. With four elections (so far) in less than two years, more than a dozen political parties and endless possible coalitions and permutations, the most an American observer can do is scan for trends.
On Wednesday, the national elections committee will present the results of the vote to President Reuven Rivlin, who will consult with party leaders before deciding which will have the first chance to form a government; aside from that, pretty much everything is up in the air. We asked some of our regular opinion contributors on Israeli politics: What do you see that’s new in the results of this latest election? What has changed?
There’s one thing that’s old, and one thing that’s new, and the old thing is essential. The old thing is that Benjamin Netanyahu has tried four times now to get a majority, and he has failed four times. The significance of that has to be underlined. The second thing, which is new, is that he has become so desperate that he is actively courting an Arab-backed party, and in the process undermining the most effective weapon that he wielded against the opposition parties that are now coalescing into an alternative coalition—which is that each of the previous times he managed to underscore the old and bad taboo on a government supported by the Arab parties, a taboo that was only ever broken by Yitzhak Rabin. And by pushing enough people just far enough to continue with that taboo, he prevented them from forming a coalition. It is possible, by no means certain, that his own actions this time will actually make it easier for the opposition to finally overcome its own internal differences and create an alternative coalition.
Gershom Gorenberg is an Israeli historian and journalist and author most recently of War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East.
The fact that a Likud prime minister has not ruled out, and may even require, political partnership with an Arab party—which at least some of his far-right partners are willing to consider—is undoubtedly one of the most significant developments of this election. It is clear that the political system is moving toward this possibility, mostly for electoral considerations, which some have called “cynical.” However, one should not underestimate the conceptual shift and the significance of the Israeli public’s openness to greater involvement of Arab parties and Knesset members in the political lives of all Israelis. This development should be taken into consideration when examining the overall significance of the current political stalemate. On the one hand, this sharpens several tensions and highlights deep divisions between groups in Israeli society. On the other hand, it accelerates surprising societal processes that could bring about positive long-term change.
It’s important to point out that despite significant public anger at the Haredim due to the conduct of groups within the sector during the COVID-19 crisis (not following the rules, active opposition to government instructions, etc.)—anger that is expressed in public opinion polls and rhetoric on social media and in other political arenas—their ability to influence political developments through their representatives was not harmed. Practically, it may very well be that the political stalemate, which makes it harder for Netanyahu and his rivals to put together a coalition, only empowers them. It should be noted that the party that ran a primarily “anti-Haredi” campaign (Yisrael Beitenu—Avigdor Lieberman) won fewer mandates in this election cycle compared to previous ones. This campaign might not have caused Yisrael Beitenu’s weakening, but the fact that it did not excite the public and attract additional voters could affect the strategy taken by party leaders in future elections concerning the Haredi challenge.
Shmuel Rosner is a Tel Aviv-based columnist, editor and researcher. His latest book is #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution.
Once again, Israelis woke up to the devastating uncertainty of a political system that has ceased to function, no party or group garnering the requisite 61 members necessary to form a government. With Benjamin Netanyahu and his strongest coalition possibility, Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yemina Party, at 59 and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid nipping at his heels with ״anyone but Bibi” (that is, the current prime minister) partners among the left at 57, small parties have become the kingmakers. Whatever happens, the instability seems systemic and does not bode well.
Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Jerusalem.
Top photo: Voting in the Israeli-Arab town of Jaffa, a mixed city of Christians, Muslims and Jews, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (Noam Moskovich/The Israel Project)