Hopes for Tuesday's elections

Unlike the right-religious voters, those of the center-left would welcome a national unity government without Netanyahu, since they believe such a government to be the only alternative.

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R)
 Everyone agrees that the elections tomorrow are critical, though there is no consensus as to why they are critical. The right-wingers are concerned that it might not be possible to form another right-wing government, and that as a result a center-left government, supported by the Arabs, will bring upon us another Oslo-like “catastrophe.”
Many right-religious voters also sincerely believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is irreplaceable, and that whatever his shortcomings, they are all forgivable. For most of them, a center-right national unity government is unthinkable – especially one that excludes Netanyahu himself.
The centrists, and left-wingers are concerned that a right-wing-religious government will be formed, in which the whole spectrum of haredi and National-Religious parties – including the Kahanists – will have maximal blackmailing power vis-à-vis Netanyahu.
In Israel’s 34th government it was Kulanu that held this power, and used it to protect the rule of law and some important principles of democracy, which the other members of the government were willing to ignore. The emasculated Kulanu is now part of the Likud.
Unlike the right-religious voters, those of the center-left would welcome a national unity government without Netanyahu, since they believe such a government to be the only alternative.
It is said that even if he manages to obtain the support of 61 right-religious MKs, Netanyahu would prefer to include at least one non right-wing-religious party in his next government, in order to keep the religious parties at bay. His preferred candidate is said to be Labor-Gesher, even though both Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abecassis have repeatedly stated that they will not join a government headed by Netanyahu, since his goal is to escape justice.
As we know from previous elections, preelection opinion polls are fickle, especially in elections where victory or defeat could be determined by a single Knesset seat. This time there are many reasons the opinion polls might give some general indications of what the real election results might be, but are unable to predict who will form the government, and what sort of government it will be.
For example, will Otzma Yehudit pass the qualifying threshold? Will Yisrael Beytenu – which is apparently adamant in its refusal to sit in the same government with the haredim and messianics (but would probably agree to sit in a government with Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s New Right) – receive nine to 10 seats, as all the opinion polls indicated in recent weeks, or much fewer, as some recent polls have suggested? Will Labor-Gesher and/or the Democratic Union fail to pass the qualifying threshold?
Labor-Gesher finds itself today – a day before Election Day – in an impossible situation in which there is very little, if anything, it can do besides pray. On the one hand Blue and White seems determined to “drink” more Labor votes than it has already done, in order to try to emerge as the largest parliamentary group in the 22nd Knesset, though Benny Gantz said in an interview with Rina Matsliah on Channel 12 on Saturday evening that he wants Labor-Gesher in the national unity government he plans to form after the elections. On the other hand there are Labor supporters who, fearing that Labor-Gesher might decide to join a narrow government formed by Netanyahu, despite all of Peretz’s and Levy-Abecassis’s promises, might shift their votes to the Democratic Union.
And how will tens or hundreds of thousands of what I call “confused” or “uninformed” voters actually vote? On the one hand there are voters who are seriously considering not to vote, because they claim that none of the lists represents their views. On the other hand there are voters who are totally ignorant of the options, apparently because they cannot be bothered to listen to the news or seek information elsewhere. A voter of Russian origin in his early 40s said to me the other day that he was planning to vote for Moshe Feiglin. He wasn’t aware of the fact that Feiglin had left the race. When I asked him about other options he might consider, he didn’t have accurate information about any of them (for example, he thought Ehud Barak was running in Blue and White).
Another cause for unclarity is the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will be abroad tomorrow, even though they strongly identify with one political camp or the other. I suspect that most of this group are supporters of center-left lists, and I find it difficult to explain the dissonance between their desire for change and their failure to be in Israel on Election Day.
IT IS not surprising that, this being the situation, it is anyone’s guess whether Netanyahu will actually manage to muster 61 seats in the 22nd Knesset that will enable him to form a narrow right-religious government (with or without non-right-religious additions), or whether some form of national unity government will end up being the only option, short of a third round of elections.
In one of his interviews on Saturday evening (I do not remember whether it was with Ayala Hasson on Channel 13 or Matsliah on Channel 12), Netanyahu avoided answering the question whether in a situation in which after the elections he would be given the first chance to form a government and once again fail to do so, he would return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin to offer another candidate the opportunity to try and form a government (which he failed to do after the April elections), and didn’t exclude the option of a third round of elections.
In the course of both interviews, Netanyahu repeatedly called upon right-wing voters to vote for the Likud rather than for Otzma Yehudit (which he claims will not pass the qualifying threshold) or Yamina – all this in breach of the law regarding election propaganda.
In general, he was anything but relaxed; made derogatory remarks to both Hasson and Matsliah (he actually accused Matsliah of having called Likud voters a herd, when what she had said was that the Likud MKs had voted like a herd when the Likud’s “cameras law” was brought up for a vote on first reading last week, and he ignored her correction); kept bragging about his own foreign policy achievements, including the establishment of a defense alliance with the United States which he claims is in the making, but which both the IDF and the American defense establishment are known to oppose; and, as he also did before the April elections, denied that he is in any way involved in planning to arrange for himself immunity from standing trial, claiming that the charges against him are disintegrating, so there will be no trial.
Have these two interviews, and many others that Netanyahu gave to the various media outlets in the course of the last week, managed to shift voters away from the center-left lists to the Likud? I have no idea. I was merely strengthened in my own opinion that Netanyahu is either in a state of panic or in a state of denial, and that the sooner he is forced to leave the residence on Balfour Street, the better for the State of Israel.
After tomorrow we shall know what the majority wants, or doesn’t want – unless, of course, the outcome will be a draw.