Think About it: The superfluous elections should not be canceled

What has happened between the April elections and today?

June 30, 2019 19:36
Think About it: The superfluous elections should not be canceled

Chaos erupts in the Knesset ahead of its vote to dissolve itself on May 29. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Anyone who feels that the title of this article is a non sequitur simply doesn’t understand the completely wacky political reality in which we find ourselves these days. In a catch-as-catch-can reality, taking advantage of a situation that never should have come about is the most logical action to take, especially when the reality was consciously created by your political rival – a magician who appears to have lost his touch.

One doesn’t need too long a memory to recall that the elections to the 21st Knesset (the one that is to be replaced on September 17) should have taken place sometime in November 2019 – four-and-a-half months from now. Why did they not take place in time, and why are we about to elect the 22nd Knesset in September? Because the basis on which our prime minister has decided when elections should take place has nothing to do with the real needs of the state and its citizens, but exclusively with how to prolong his own political career and how to avoid standing on trial for as long as possible, if not permanently.

Let us be quite clear: In all parliamentary democracies in which a prime minister can decide to hold elections whenever it is convenient for him, prime ministers take their own political future into consideration when they decide to call for early elections. Sometimes they hit the jackpot; at other times they fail (the case of Theresa May in Britain is a case in point). However, I do not know of any precedent where a prime minister called for early elections twice within less than half a year, for no other reason than his own personal interests, as Benjamin Netanyahu has done.

Now Netanyahu appears to be having second thoughts about the second of the two superfluous elections, allegedly because opinion polls held by the Likud suggest that Netanyahu’s position has weakened, and it is not at all certain that the president of the state will assign the formation of Israel’s 35th government to him.

What has happened between the April elections and today?

First of all, though the right-wing-religious coalition emerged from the April elections with a comfortable majority of 65 MKs, the first crack in the right-wing support for Netanyahu appeared when Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) decided to place his own electoral interests and the anti-“religionization” interests of his voters ahead of their right-wing inclinations, and said “enough is enough” with regard to Netanyahu’s systematic submission to all the desires and whims of the religious parties – but especially the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) ones. Liberman is apparently also the first right-wing leader who does not hide the fact that, as far as he is concerned, Netanyahu has outlived his usefulness and has actually turned into a burden, though even he hasn’t said so in so many words.

As things look at the moment, two-and-a-half months before polling day, Liberman will apparently gain voters for his move: both at the expense of Yesh Atid within Blue and White, and at the expense of the Likud. This is good news for the anti-Bibi camp, which understands that at this juncture the only way to get rid of Netanyahu is by means of a national unity government between the Likud and Blue and White, which can come about only if Netanyahu is replaced at the head of the Likud.

WHY IS the anti-Bibi camp so adamant that Netanyahu must go?

The most obvious reason, but certainly not the most pertinent one, is that after he managed to castrate all his potential rivals, Netanyahu is the only effective leader the Right has to offer at the moment.

The two pertinent arguments are, first of all, that there are serious criminal charges against Netanyahu, and though the law permits him to remain prime minister until he is convicted in a final court decision, reality has proven that Netanyahu’s conduct and decisions in the last year have been determined primarily by his legal predicament, plus his determination to remain in power for as long as possible, irrespective of the consequences for the state and its citizens.

Secondly, despite the fact Netanyahu and the Likud keep arguing that in terms of Israel’s social fortitude, economy and foreign relations, it has “never had it so good,” in reality, things are not so bright. Israel’s society is more disunited than ever, with the government acting as an inciter rather than a uniter. The economy is approaching a serious storm with a giant budgetary deficit, resulting from a licentious and irresponsible economic policy. Israel’s foreign policy achievements are all rather shaky, whether one is speaking of preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear device; Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights; or in terms of its alignment with extreme right-wing regimes at the expense of liberal-democratic ones.

THE QUESTION must then be asked why the current superfluous elections might well have saved the anti-Bibi camp from four years in opposition.

There are several answers to this, which make it quite unlikely that anyone in this camp will support canceling the new elections. The first is the exact reason Netanyahu is considering their cancellation: Netanyahu and the right-wing-religious coalition appear to have weakened since April.

Among the developments that are having this effect: the fact that the four Arab parties have learned the lesson from the April elections, and will run in a single list. This will probably increase the number of their seats back from 10 to what they had in the 20th Knesset, 13, and possibly even more; the chances that the new party that former prime minister Ehud Barak is in the process of forming will run in the elections in a single list with the Labor Party (especially if Itzik Shmuli wins the leadership primaries Tuesday) and Meretz (after Nitzan Horowitz gained the leadership there last Thursday), and will form a focus of support for the political Left, leaving Blue and White free to turn to the “soft,” liberal Right. Though Barak certainly is not devoid of weaknesses, the fact that, unlike the Blue and White leadership, he has genius, experience, a bee in his bonnet in addition to a killer instinct provides him with a clear advantage over the Blue and White foursome. All this is likely to increase the representation of the Center-Left and Arab bloc from 55 to over 60.

This does not mean that this bloc will form the next government. It merely means that Blue and White and a list headed by Barak might be in a better negotiating position – vis-à-vis Liberman in his current state of mind, and a more pragmatic Naftali Bennett at the head of the New Right, should he manage to pass the qualifying threshold this time – and thus in a better position to head the national unity government that Israel so desperately needs in order to return some stability and sanity into its political reality and daily life.

From a Center-Left perspective, this is undoubtedly a much better scenario than the gloomy results of the April elections.

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