As things look at the moment, in just over four months, Israel will be going to its fifth round of elections since April 9, 2019.
Unfortunately, there was no other solution to the current situation in the Israeli body politic. The conditions for the government of ‘change’ to survive within the Israeli reality were simply not allowed to prevail for any long-term length of time and the opposition (especially the Likud) made optimal use of its power to obstruct, both in its parliamentary conduct, and in its efforts to encourage defections from some of the coalition partners – but especially from the prime minister’s parliamentary group – Yamina.
Since the end of the 1990s, both the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Council of Europe have invested much time and efforts into strengthening democracy in the world at large, and Europe respectively. One of the elements both have investigated and promoted are constructive relations between single-party governments and coalition governments, with their respective oppositions in parliamentary systems of government, such as ours.
On the basis of the principles laid down by the two organizations, the performance of Israel’s current opposition – but especially the Jewish opposition led by the Likud – has been the most obstructive and to a certain extent anti-democratic in any parliamentary democracy on record in the last 30 years, though it can be argued that by refusing to grant the obstructive opposition its due representation in the most important permanent Knesset committees, the coalition also contributed to breakdown of the proper working of a democratic system, with the excuse that if it were to give in, not only the plenum would be turned into a three-ring circus, but the committees would become inoperable.
The premature dissolution of the Knesset, which is expected to occur today, puts an end to the nerve-wracking theater of the absurd we have experienced in the last year. Now a new game begins: a four month election campaign – the longest Israel has experienced for many years – in which a different set of rules will prevail, at the end of which the voters will decide whether Israel will finally get a more or less stable government and normally performing opposition, or enter another period of deadlock and chaos.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to play every trick in the game to try and attain his dream government, made up exclusively of the Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties, religious Zionists, and any new or existing rightwing party that joined the Government of Change. His campaign will include continuing the delegitimization of the left-wing and centrist Jewish parties that do not associate their Zionism primarily with Orthodox religious belief and practices, but with the Jewish state being the state of all the Jewish people, irrespective of their beliefs or way of life; the delegitimization of right-wing parties that refuse to serve in a government headed by Netanyahu; and the delegitimization of inviting Arab parties to join a government or coalition, unless there are at least 61 Jewish MKs supporting it.
Furthermore, the constant personal defamation, insults and disrespectfulness flung at Bennett to his face in the past year will now be redirected at Yair Lapid, who presumptively will be serving as interim prime minister, governing Israel until a new government is formed after the elections. Already, the Likud and its supporters are making hay of the fact that Lapid never completed his high school matriculation exams and spent his military service as a reporter for the IDF weekly Bamahane. They are also belittling his achievements as minister of finance in Netanyahu’s third government and as minister of foreign affairs in the current government.
LAPID WILL probably be saved from Netanyahu’s childish mockery of his given name – Yair – because he shares this name with Netanyahu’s eldest son. Recently in the plenum, Netanyahu played around with Naftali’s name like an infantile bully: “ein gvul lenaftulei Naftali hamitpatel” (“there is no limit to the wriggles of the wriggling Naftali”).
The Likud’s campaign will continue to refer to the Government of Change as a dangerous and totally incompetent government, and to Netanyahu as the greatest leader Israel has ever had.
In return, the campaign of Yesh Atid (Lapid’s party) and those of the other just-not-Bibi parties, will focus on the achievements of the Government of Change (which the Likud refuses to recognize); on the more tranquil atmosphere and mamlachtiyut (statesmanlike behavior) that this government instilled; on the fact that Netanyahu is performing under three indictments and is currently standing trial; and on his authoritarian inclinations, which manifest themselves in some of the laws he plans to introduce (last week, he supported a bill introduced by MKs David Amsalem and May Golan from the Likud, which would give the government the power to appoint judges), and on the way he speaks to – or rather yells at – his own MKs when they do not act in accordance with his instructions.
The campaign will also focus on MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the Religious Zionist Party, who will serve as senior ministers in any government Netanyahu might form after the elections, should he manage to muster the 61 majority he covets.
All the current opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu’s chances of attaining the majority he requires to form the government are reachable. However, there are several unknowns in the equation at this point.
Lapid's upcoming performance review
The first is that Lapid has between four to six months to demonstrate the quality of his performance as transitional prime minister, while under constant attack by the current Jewish opposition, which we know can be vicious and accompanied by endless fake news.
Who comes to the polls?
The second is the turnout of the Arab population on Election Day. In the elections to the 24th Knesset the turnout was 44.6% only, compared to 64.8% in the elections to the 23rd Knesset. This difference in turnout made the difference between the 15 seats the Joint List received in the latter Knesset, and the 10 which the Joint List plus Ra’am received in the current Knesset.
The $64,000 question is what the turnout will be this time: whether the Arabs will rush to the voting booths or prefer to stay at home. Certainly, the Likud will do everything in its power to attain the latter result and the just-not-Bibi camp will encourage the former result.
Whom are we actually voting for?
The third unknown is the exact make-up of lists that will run in the elections: whether a liberal-Right party willing to join a government under Netanyahu will run; whether some of the parties that are members in the current coalition and are in danger of not crossing the 3.25% qualifying threshold will decide not to run or will decide to run together in a single list with another party; and whether some attractive new actor will join the race (for example, will former IDF chief of staff Gabi Eizenkot join Lapid as his No. 2 and what effect will that have?).
I still maintain – as I did in April 2019 – that only an authentic unity government, without tricks or schticks, based on a coalition between the Likud and Yesh Atid and/or Blue and White, and one or both of the ultra-Orthodox parties, can provide Israel with a stable workable government. Unfortunately, as long as Netanyahu is leader of the Likud that is not possible.
The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge at the end of July.