An Israeli Groundhog Day - analysis

Israel's second round of elections had basically the same lineup of suspects and no clear-cut winner and once again.

By
September 19, 2019 02:07
2 minute read.
An Israeli Groundhog Day - analysis

Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

When another election was announced following the unprecedented nighttime Knesset session on May 29, many Israelis – as well as most of the MKs who voted to disperse the Knesset – reacted in disbelief.

How could a new election change the deadlock that had mounted in Israeli politics – stuck between blocs on the Right and Left that didn’t add up to a coalition, an embattled prime minister facing indictment, and Avigdor Liberman, a recalcitrant party leader who had turned into a kingmaker?

Nonetheless, there were those who were hopeful that between the two rounds of voting, the populace would be swayed toward one camp or the other, allowing a clear victor to emerge from the rubble.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday night, it became painfully obvious that there would be no such outcome. Once again, with basically the same lineup of suspects, there was no clear-cut winner, and once again neither the Right nor the Left had the numbers to form a coalition.

Had Israel somehow recreated the premise of Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray film in which his hapless TV weatherman wakes up each morning to repeat the day he just had?

It certainly seemed that way. And barring some major change of heart from some of the principals, we’ll be experiencing another Election Day in a few more months.

It is clear that a unity government is the only option to avoid another dreadful third round, but that would necessitate some major changes. Either Blue and White’s Benny Gantz reneges on his promise to voters to not sit in a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu, or the Likud puts in process a motion to replace Netanyahu as leader. Neither of those is likely, even though President Reuven Rivlin could appeal to Gantz’s national pride and attempt to convince him to join a national-unity government out of obligation to the country.

Also improbable is the option of Liberman going back on his word to his constituents to not sit in a government with non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox parties, in order to join a right-wing coalition with the Likud, Yamina and the religious parties. That would be an even bigger jump than Gantz would have to make.

Both the Right and Left predictably spun the results for their own means, with the Likud touting the Right’s bigger bloc and the Left proclaiming “the end of the Netanyahu era.”

However, a declaration like that when dealing with Netanyahu is always premature. Given his legal woes and the groundswell of opinion that a change is needed for Israel’s leadership, Blue and White inability to strike a clear-cut victory could also be seen as a considerable failure of its lackluster campaign.

The day after the election, all sides seemed to be digging into their well-worn trenches of “I’ll only join X if Y happens.” Even though, during the campaign, every candidate insisted that there was no way there would be a third round of voting, all indications point to another stalemate in the weeks ahead, as Rivlin attempts to convince the sides to compromise.

If he fails, it looks like we’ll be waking up to Groundhog Day again real soon.


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