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Election tickets for the 39 parties who ran in the 2019 Israeli elections with the envelope voters must insert their ballot into, April 9, 2019.(Photo by: BEN BRESKY)
Pre-elections conundrums
If the poll forecasts are correct regarding the political blocs, the establishment of a secular unity government – Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu is in the cards.
In less than two weeks the elections will be held in Israel, and the polls indicate that nothing new under the sun is expected. Although it has already been proven that polls do not identify last-minute trends – and on Election Day the tectonic boards of Israeli politics are operating at full strength – it seems that the balance between the blocs is unlikely to dramatically change after the elections.

According to  average poll results, which remained more or less static in the past month, the right-wing bloc led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism) is expected to win 56 seats in the elections. By contrast, the Center-Left bloc led by Benny Gantz (Blue and White, Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher) is expected to win 43 seats.

The remaining 21 seats are expected to go to two parties that have not yet declared support for either of the candidates. On the one hand, Avigdor Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu – which traditionally belongs to the right-wing bloc, yet recently signed a surplus agreement with Blue and White – is expected to win 10 seats. On the other hand, the Joint Arab List, which is expected to continue refraining from recommending a prime ministerial candidate – an act that will harm Gantz’s chances of forming a government – is expected to win 11 seats.

In this situation, as long as Netanyahu does not obtain Liberman’s support, which seems very unlikely these days, the prime minister does not have a coalition majority for the establishment of a right-wing government. Thus, given that Gantz cannot obtain a majority of 61 Knesset members without the support of Liberman and the Joint Arab List, support that is currently not guaranteed at all, only two options remain feasible at this stage.

The first is to hold re-elections for the third time, an option that all parties completely reject.

The second and most viable option is the establishment of a unity government led by the Likud and Blue and White. In this scenario, the two fascinating conundrums are whether Blue and White’s leadership will agree to sit in the government together with Netanyahu if the latter will be indicted and, if an indictment will be indeed filed, whether Likud MKs will decide to oust Netanyahu and appoint another candidate for the post of prime minister.

ALTHOUGH THE scenario of the establishment of a unity government seems the most plausible given the expected distribution of mandates between the blocs, there are two more riddles in the current campaign that may affect the composition of the next government.

First, which candidate will Liberman recommend for the post of prime minister? This question is very difficult to answer for several reasons. On the one hand, even though he traditionally belongs to the right-wing camp, his relationship with Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties was undermined by Liberman’s refusal to join the right-wing government, a decision that led to the upcoming re-elections.

On the other hand, his signing the surplus agreement between Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White is probably a sign of future cooperation between Liberman and Gantz – although it is hard to see a situation where Liberman agrees to sit in a government that relies on outside support of the Joint Arab List.

It therefore seems that Liberman will work as hard as he can to establish a unity government. Thus, the signing of the surplus agreement with Blue and White is actually a clear signal from Liberman to Netanyahu that Yisrael Beytenu will only join a unity government.

Second, how will the Joint Arab List act – and will it recommend Gantz’s candidacy in order to oust Netanyahu? The past precedent, where the Arab parties have consistently refrained from joining Israeli governments, seems to be repeating itself this time as well.

Although Joint Arab List chairman Ayman Odeh stated that his party may join a Center-Left government, it is reasonable to assume that his declaration stems only from tactical elections considerations, aiming to increase the percentage of voting among Israeli Arabs. Thus, given the low voter turnout among the Arab public, whose majority wants the Joint Arab List to sit in a government and have a piece of the governing pie, Odeh’s statement has given the Israeli Arabs an incentive to go out and vote.

Past experience, however, has taught us that Arab voters will again be disappointed and that the Joint Arab List will both remain in opposition and refrain from recommending Gantz to the post of prime minister, a scenario that only reinforces the possibility that a unity government will be formed after the elections.

In conclusion, if the poll forecasts are correct regarding the political blocs, the establishment of a secular unity government – Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu, with or without Netanyahu – seems to be the most reasonable outcome following the elections.

What is certain is that such a government will be able to address the important challenges facing the State of Israel and make important strategic decisions, both domestically and internationally. In practice, only a unity government will be able to determine Israel’s final borders and agree to the difficult concessions necessary: to secure the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state on the one hand, and to carry out a civil revolution – such as permitting public transportation on Saturday – on the other.

In the end – despite the friction and rivalries between the parties and between the politicians – there is still a country to manage.

The writer is a research assistant and PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, and was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
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