The election results and what we should expect - opinion

Within a week or two, we shall be much the wiser about the makeup of Israel’s 37th government, and within several months we shall know whether the fears of what it may seek to do are justified.

 CENTRAL ELECTION Committee workers count the remaining ballots at the Knesset last week. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
CENTRAL ELECTION Committee workers count the remaining ballots at the Knesset last week.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Since Wednesday most of my friends and acquaintances from the Center/Left are in a state of shock and depression. A few are even musing about leaving the country.

Since I had expected Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc to receive 61 or 62 seats in the new Knesset, the final result of 64 did not catch me completely by surprise.

In a certain sense I was even a little relieved by the fact that the result was not a draw (which was the only real alternative), because under such circumstances the only two options would have been an ugly contest between Netanyahu and transition Prime Minister Yair Lapid about who would manage to win over deserters from the opposite bloc, or a sixth round of elections in April or May 2023.

Not for a minute did I think that “the election had been stolen.” Statistics show that the votes cast for the Netanyahu bloc exceeded by only several thousand those cast for the lists running against it, but that the latter lost more votes due to the fact that two of these lists did not pass the 3.25% qualifying electoral threshold. Netanyahu’s bloc was hermetically sealed, thanks to his success in getting all the small parties in his bloc to run in a single list – the Religious Zionist Party.

There is no doubt that the members of the current coalition plus the Joint List failed dismally in the effort to maximize their strength toward the election, thanks to Lapid’s attempt to increase the number of his party’s seats, mostly at the expense of the parties in his own bloc; to the decision by Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli to refuse to run together in a single list with Meretz, despite the danger than either Labor or Meretz (or both) would not pass the qualifying threshold; to the unsubstantiated assumption of National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz that he would climb above the 11-13 Knesset seats predicted for him in the preelection polls, which would place him as a realistic candidate for the premiership, and his decision to direct his campaign against Lapid as much as against Netanyahu; and to the political havoc within and among the Arab parties. Conclusion: the Center/Left/Arab “bloc” honestly earned its electoral defeat.

 Likud leader and Israeli opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Likud leader and Israeli opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There is little doubt that by next week, or at latest in another two weeks, Netanyahu will be able to form a government with the ultra-Orthodox and extreme National-Religious parties. Since there are few, if any, liberals among any of these parties, and there are very few, if any, liberals left on the benches of the Likud (Yuval Steinitz left, and Tzachi Hanegbi was placed in an unrealistic place on the list), the nature of the new government will be anything but liberal.

How will Benjamin Netanyahu put together Israel's next government? 

What seems rather bizarre is that in this situation it is Netanyahu who has been cast in the role of “responsible adult” – the very same Netanyahu who is still standing on trial on three criminal charges, is famous for breaking promises and even written agreements, and frequently has problems with the truth. Though at long last he has got the government he covets, I do not envy him and the persons who are helping him put the coalition together – especially MK Yariv Levin.

Netanyahu has already announced that he will keep the ministries of Defense and Finance in Likud hands. MK Yoav Gallant is apparently the main candidate for defense minister. I hope MK Nir Barkat will finally be appointed finance minister, and not former finance minister Israel Katz; but as far as Netanyahu is concerned, Barkat is in the doghouse.

It has been reported that Levin has set his eyes on the Foreign Ministry, even though in the past he was known to covet the Justice Ministry. Despite his radical positions regarding reforms in Israel’s system of justice, I believe that at least he will concentrate on responsible reforms and not on the system’s complete destruction, which is what several other self-proclaimed candidates for the position, such as MK David Amsalem, seem to have in mind.

Some of the more worrying reforms in the justice system that have been mentioned are the selection of Supreme Court justices by the government; an overriding clause that would enable a majority of 61 MKs to override a decision by the High Court of Justice to reject an article in a law or even a complete law passed by the Knesset; and the deletion of the offense of “breach of trust” from the lawbook.

Netanyahu will certainly have problems with numerous ambitious Likud MKs, not all of whom will be able to be appointed to ministerial positions.

The appointments of the two leaders of the Religious Zionist Party, MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, are liable to be the most problematic. The former originally demanded the Defense Ministry or the Finance Ministry, and the latter is demanding the Public Security Ministry.

Many view giving Ben-Gvir the Public Security Ministry as giving a pyromaniac explosives and a box of matches. However, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have quite a bit of leverage over Netanyahu, since at this stage he is unlikely to warn them that if they will refuse to withdraw from their extreme demands, he will turn to Benny Gantz and his party. That option is currently not in the cards.

As usual, there are less difficulties with the ultra-Orthodox, even though there might be a legal problem with appointing Shas leader Arye Deri as a minister, because of his recent plea bargain on tax offenses.

Incidentally, Deri has promised to play the role of responsible adult regarding reforms in the legal system, but he also promised a guarantee that Netanyahu would keep his undertaking to Gantz back in 2020 to go through with the rotation agreement the two had signed, and we all know how that ended.

Within a week or two, we shall be much the wiser about the makeup of Israel’s 37th government, and within several months we shall know whether the fears of what it may seek to do are justified.

I BELIEVE that, unlike the current opposition, the new opposition will not consider and treat the new government, its head, its ministers and the speaker it will appoint to the Knesset, as illegitimate and a bunch of worthless crooks, and will not deliberately and systematically obstruct the work of the Knesset, no matter how objectionable the actions of the new government will be.

It is to be hoped that the new government will be more generous and magnanimous toward the new opposition than it was as the opposition toward the outgoing government.

Last Friday, in an interview she gave to Meet the Press on Channel 12, MK Miri Regev, who will soon be appointed as a senior minister in the new government, continued to speak disparagingly, and with no respect for the truth, about the outgoing government and its members. At the end she said that the new opposition has nothing to worry about, but I must admit that her tone of voice and what she said were anything but reassuring.

It is time that, as prime minister, Netanyahu do something he didn’t do as leader of the opposition: put an end to such talk among his fellow Likudniks.

The writer 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 most recent book is Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, published by Routledge.