The Israeli public could be forced to undergo a fourth round of elections, which nobody wants and many have threatened to boycott.
By RUTHIE BLUM
The day after Israelis go the polls on Monday to elect the next Knesset, the greatest number of Democratic Party primaries will be held across the United States. The proximity of Super Tuesday to the Jewish state’s third attempt in 11 months to determine the makeup of the next government in Jerusalem is coincidental. Their outcomes, however, will have been mutually influenced.This might seem peculiar, given the two countries’ completely different electoral and political systems, and the fact that the ballots counted in the US on March 3 merely will give a good idea about which Democratic candidate is likely to win the presidential nomination and run against the Republican incumbent, US President Donald Trump, in November.The Israeli election, on the other hand, is a national one, where voters will be opting this time around for one of 29 (!) parties vying for as many of the 120 Knesset seats as they can get.The head of the largest party – or the one that has the best chance of forming a majority coalition – will be tasked with establishing the government.For the past 11 years that figure has been Likud head Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Next week, he is likely to be in that position as well. Barring a surprise shift, again he will be unable to garner a 61-seat majority. If this happens, the Israeli public could be forced to undergo a fourth round of elections, which nobody wants and many have threatened to boycott.Without getting into the details of coalition-building – as complicated for Americans to understand as caucuses and delegates are for Israelis – there are two simple points that often get lost in the fray. One is that Likud represents the political, religious and social center. The other is that Netanyahu’s longevity as leader of the party and the country is not a fluke.Loyalists who love him with a passion overlook his flaws. Other supporters include those who are critical of some of his policies, but consider him to be the best possible person for the job, certainly when compared with the current alternatives. A third category is made up of indirect supporters: those who rant against him from the right, yet know that their success at the ballot box and only hope of furthering any part of their agendas, presuppose a Likud victory.THIS IS not to say that Netanyahu specifically and Likud in general are universally appreciated. On the contrary, the Left always has loathed him and continues to do so, employing any and every means at its disposal – no matter how underhanded – to remove him from office. Unable thus far to defeat him through the courts, even many “progressives” have agreed to join forces with the new kid on the block, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party.Blue and White emerged with a platform that was virtually indistinguishable from that of Likud, minus Netanyahu. Indeed, the “anybody but Bibi” party promised to be all things to all people – a smorgasbord of positions with a little something for everyone: Promoting security and defense, but striving for peace with the Palestinians; respecting Judaism, yet seeking pluralism; championing Israeli innovation and small businesses, but aiming for greater sectoral equity; and all of the above while stressing the need to allocate budgets better, for the improvement of health, education and welfare.In other words, just like Netanyahu’s Likud.The ploy worked. Within a very short time, Blue and White not only tied with Likud in the polls and ultimately at the ballot box, but slightly surpassed it. It was an impressive achievement, particularly in view of Gantz’s inability to articulate a sentence, let alone a stance, without the aid of a teleprompter.What it failed to do – in April and again in September – was form a government. For all its bells, whistles and successful appeal to the disgruntled and weary, Blue and White did not alter the electoral map or overall public sentiment.Far fewer disillusioned Likud supporters jumped ship to back Blue and White than to parties on the Right.WHICH BRINGS us to the real root of the impasse: Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beytenu Party and self-appointed “kingmaker.” Liberman is a right-winger with an equal aversion to the haredi and Arab parties, the former for not contributing enough to the Zionist endeavor, and the latter for opposing it altogether.The plan he proposed 15 years ago for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is eerily similar to the “Deal of the Century” that Trump unveiled at the White House on January 28. The irony wasn’t lost on Liberman, who had been ridiculed for it at the time.On January 29, Liberman wrote on Facebook: “In 2004, everybody raised an eyebrow when I presented my plan for land and population swaps. Last night, President Trump adopted my plan in its entirety...”Ahead of the April elections, Liberman had vowed to join a Likud-led coalition. As a result, at the close of Election Day, it was clear that the right-wing bloc had won by a definitive majority, and that Netanyahu would be heading the next government – as soon as he completed the delicate process of coalition negotiations. But Liberman, whose own hatred for Netanyahu knows no bounds, suddenly pulled an about-face.Rather than being penalized for his stunt, however, he was rewarded; by the next round in September, he had nearly doubled his party’s mandates. The “kingmaker” was still in business, yet refused to anoint the king, who – numerically – would have been Netanyahu. Liberman could not have crowned Gantz, because even with Yisrael Beytenu backing, the left-wing bloc was too small. And so it is likely to remain, of course, unless it included the anti-Zionist Arab parties. Neither he nor they would agree to such an arrangement.MEANWHILE, BACK in America, the Democrats have been facing a similar political and societal problem. After trying, to no avail, to use every bit of ammunition in their arsenal to oust Trump, they were left with no choice but to undergo due electoral process and work hard to defeat him at the ballot box.It’s a feat that borders on the futile. Incumbents in America rarely lose, especially when the economy is good, and under Trump it has been booming. Though this is not stopping the contenders for the presidential nomination from duking it out with a vengeance, it is posing them and their prospective voters a dilemma.Their predicament is personified by far Left front-runner Bernie Sanders. Even Democrats who favor him fear that he will not be able to beat Trump in a general election. Like Netanyahu, Trump is both beloved and loathed, with much of the populace critical of some of his policies (while embarrassed by his tweets), yet proud of what he has accomplished for the country at home and abroad.One issue that is close to the hearts of Americans is support for Israel. On this Trump has been more solid, dedicated and genuine than all of his Oval Office predecessors put together.And just as most Israelis are grateful to Trump for the ever-strengthening ties between Jerusalem and Washington; most Americans admire Netanyahu’s statesmanship.Sanders, in contrast, announced that he would be shunning the March 1-3 AIPAC policy conference, on the grounds that it “provides a platform for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights,” and referred to Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist.”Talk about being out of touch with the mainstream, which includes large numbers of Jewish Democrats who belong to or are associated with AIPAC and care very much about “Palestinian rights.”SANDERS’S RISE in the increasingly radical Democratic Party – with worrisome antisemitic overtones – helps to explain why Netanyahu has overtaken Gantz at the polls, whether or not Liberman and the Arab parties yet again prevent the establishment of the next Israeli government.Gantz angered the Left by meeting with Trump in Washington last month and coming out in favor of his “Peace to Prosperity Plan,” albeit with a wink to the “international community” for approval and assistance.Meanwhile, he caused the appropriate guffaw from the Right by declaring that, if elected, he would repair the rift with US Democrats. According to Gantz, it’s Netanyahu’s fault that the Jewish state no longer enjoys a “bipartisan relationship” with the US.Sanders couldn’t have said it better himself.The good news for the mainstream majority in both countries is that Trump and Netanyahu are likely to remain at the helm for the foreseeable future.
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