With 90% of the votes counted in Israel’s 3rd-election-in-a-year, the big surprise is Netanyahu’s Likud lead over centrist rival Gantz’s Blue White. The count is 36 for Likud and 32 for Blue White. For some months Likud was mostly lagging behind, and only in the past two weeks polls started showing a slight edge for Likud over Blue White. Absolutely no poll had predicted this level of victory before election day yesterday.
Still, the count appears to leave Likud’s right wing bloc short by 2 seats– at 59 mandates — of reaching a right-wing governing coalition without Blue White, and without Lieberman’s seven seats in the Yisrael Beitenu party. For Lieberman has long declared that a unity government without the religious parties, which won 17 seats and are a key part of Netanyahu’s bloc, is the only option.
So although this is not yet a decisive victory for Likud and Netanyahu, it’s still a major victory, symbolically at least. Netanyahu has already hailed the victory as “the biggest win of my life”.
Let it be noted that the Joint List representing mostly Palestinian Israelis, has also had a historical success: 15 seats. But that will matter little for the Zionists who rule Israel: Blue White already stated clearly that they won’t have them in government, and that’s how it’s always been in Israel – ‘Arabs’ can jump up and down, they just don’t matter in the schemes of the “Jewish and Democratic” Israel, which is a kind of “democracy for Jews only”.
The symbolic point here is important. While Netanyahu may be just short of a 61-seat majority, Gantz is light years away from it. Without the Joint List, a center-left coalition of Blue White with Labor-Meretz (7 seats, the remaining crumbs of the Zionist left) will only produce 39 seats. Even if that coalition were to rely on the Joint List’s voting support, they wouldn’t even be close. So the message here is that Israel is a right-wing country.
And one needs to consider the logic from the perspective of the rightist Israeli voter. If Blue and White is essentially a Likud-light party (which it is), just without Netanyahu, and if voting for it keeps you in a stalemate, then why not just vote Likud and increase the chances of a right-wing government, even if you don’t like Netanyahu?
This appears to be the natural logic in this prolonged war of attrition in the form of Israel’s forever elections. Netanyahu appears to be elated at the prospect of this. It may well be that this will carry forth to a fourth election, but this will not necessarily be a problem for Netanyahu. The message here is “just a little push more”, and “Netanyahu or bust”.
Israel can carry on with this “temporary government” for a while. If reality shows that the repeated elections eventually produce a gain for Likud, then from Netanyahu’s perspective it may be worth it to hang on and not compromise for a unity government, and to play this towards an even bigger and more decisive win next time.