Five thoughts on the Israeli elections:
Since 2006, when Ehud Olmert ground Likud into dust and left it with 12 seats, Israelis ended their election days without a clear picture of who would be PM. 2009 could have become, had Tzipi Livni had any political skills, a Kadima victory. 2013 and 2015 could have – again, had the center players had any skills or shreds of prophecy – been a narrow center victory. Instead the leaders – Livni, Lapid, Herzog – hesitated, let Netanyahu charge in, and lost. April 2019 looked like a clear Netanyahu victory – until Liberman upset the cart.
So, who will be the next PM? At the moment, we have no way of knowing. There are two blocs, right (with 56 seats) and center-left (with 55 seats), none of them capable of reaching the 61 threshold. The results are not final and we are unlikely to see final results before Sunday (there are complex computations regarding all of the “lost” votes), but this isn’t likely to change too much.
Which makes Avigdor Liberman, racist extraordinaire and suspected gangster who can smile and say he has no enemies alive and who holds nine seats, the kingmaker.
Bugger us all.
Liberman has broken Netanyahu’s April coalition, and spent the entirety of the election campaign trashing Netanyahu, Likud, and the religious and ultra-Orthodox parties. He claimed, time and time again, he would only support a national unity government, composed of Blue-White, a Netanyahu-free Likud, and his own party, Yisrael Beitenu.
But that was before election night. Liberman is possibly the most cynical Israeli politician, and likely the most corrupt. But, then again, there are no living witnesses. And his political career is full of meandering turns: He holds a strange record of being the politician with the greatest number of resigning offices since David Ben-Gurion. He also joined governments at weird moments, usually at their weakest point when they are about to croak. In fact, hardened Liberman watchers will whisper to you in secluded parking lots that his political trajectory makes no sense, unless you’re looking for an unseen hand guiding him. Some say it is in a GRU building in Moscow, though the real pros will point in the direction of shadowy international monetary cabals and tycoons. But, again, there are no witnesses alive.
This is the guy who will decide who will become the next PM. He may do as he promised during the campaign – he does have a sadistic streak when it comes to Netanyahu – or he may squeeze Netanyahu for everything he has, perhaps a rotation in the office of PM, so as to present himself as a true candidate for the office. He has already learned that his voters generally forget what he did between elections.
A few points of light
The Zionist left, brought to the gates of death by Ehud Barak, survived and even managed to get an extra seat (they had 10 in April, and now seems to have eleven). The Joint List seems to have 13 – with a large chunk of the votes in the Arab areas yet to be counted. Otzma, the official Judea-Nazi party, didn’t cross the threshold so some three seats may be divided between more worthy parties. Yemina, the unofficial Judea-Nazi party, crossed the threshold but with only seven seats – and then promptly split, even without waiting for the final results. The decorative head of the party, Ayelet Shaked, was not even invited for the splitting ceremony and all the male leaders signed without her. Serena Joy did her duty and is now banished to the back of the bus.
The greater point of light, though, was completely unexpected. About an hour after the polls closed, Benny Gantz (leader of Blue-White) phoned Ayman Odeh (leader of the Joint List) and the two agreed to meet soon. This is the first time a Palestinian Israeli party was invited to talks with the presumptive coalition leader in at least 27 years. That Gantz made the phone call is significant. This does not in any way means the JL will join the government – Liberman and Lapid will not be caught dead with them in a coalition – but it is a huge change compared to the ten years eaten by the locusts, and we have an Israeli leader who openly speaks with Israeli Palestinian leaders. This has huge implications.
If Liberman doesn’t deliver the government to Netanyahu, that is.
A crumbled throne
Netanyahu did everything in his power to threaten the democratic process, quite likely because he could foresee the results. He threatened, cajoled, broke every election law yesterday (to the point Facebook felt compelled to intervene), and there are grounds to believe he attempted to start a war last week. Few will remember, but a few weeks after the elections were declared, Netanyahu sent one of his henchmen, the detestable Knesset Speaker Yuli Adelstein, to attempt to cancel the election. The effort failed.
Netanyahu is facing indictment on three counts of corruption, including bribery. In two weeks, he will have to present the Government Counsel with the case of why he shouldn’t be prosecuted. He comes to this hearing having lost much of his power, and the hearing is likely to play a part in the coalition building effort. We don’t see a rebellion within Likud yet, but we may see one at the time of the hearing.
The apartheid regime is in place
The elections are not likely to change much of anything in the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. This is very likely the first election since 1970 which did not even glance at the issue of the occupation.
But, if Netanyahu fails to form a government, this means a great sorcerer has left Israeli politics, hopefully for jail. The last decade was all Netanyahu, all the time. We barely spoke of anything else. The Israeli left twisted itself into a pretzel trying to get rid of Netanyahu – it was the be-all goal.
And so, it has lost all other goals.
Now, with the air clearing, we may start speaking of things that matter. The drive for Palestinian freedom should still go on on two different tracks: Within Israel, attempting to bring Israelis to look at the occupation and its results; without, endless pressure, on any level, against the government of Israel and its military dictatorship. Israelis don’t feel nearly enough pressure about the occupation; they should feel more, much more.
And, perhaps now, with the great hate-mongerer busy with his lawyers, they will be able to speak of the real issue again.