The news from Israel is that Netanyahu’s victory celebration of one week ago was premature. The indicted prime minister is as far from a governing majority as any time in the three Israeli elections, at 58 seats out of 120.
Netanyahu’s relentless racebaiting only helped the big winners of the election, the Palestinian Joint List, which now has 15 seats compared to 10 a year ago, and whose power has amazed everyone.
So today the action in Israel is the effort by Netanyahu’s chief rival, Blue-White, to do just what Netanyahu warned that Blue-White would do: and make an alliance with the Joint List so as to form a “minority” government of 47 or so Jewish Zionist Knesset seats, but with the 15 outside votes of the Palestinian legislators (one of whom is a Communist Jew, btw).
To make such a government, and forestall a fourth election, Blue-White would have to abandon a position it took late in the campaign, to support the Trump “deal of the century.” That stance in favor of Trump appears to have hurt Blue-White in the recent election, in which it lost four seats; and driven the Joint List’s new power.
So here are three takeaways from the Israeli election:
–Trump released his “peace plan” in part to help Netanyahu. Trump failed, Netanyahu still can’t form a government. Netanyahu’s race-baiting– the constant warnings about Arabs gaining political power– also failed. So far. Though his allies continue to smear Palestinians as “terrorists in suits.”
–The Israeli Jewish left is powerless. A liberal bloc of three parties got only 7 seats, and at least one of them is a rightwinger. Of the seven seats, Labor has three– the party that founded Israel (to reflect Eli Kowaz’s insight).
–There is today only one address for a liberal left hopeful vision of Israeli society. The Joint List. Not a Jewish party, not a Zionist party. Furthermore, the Joint List is the only party that is enjoying the stasis in Israeli politics and might want a fourth election because its numbers could increase to 18 seats, as an Israeli politician told J Street!
Today the Joint List may be the real kingmaker of this election, Avigdor Lieberman having played that role in previous elections. Let’s go to the news.
The Israeli press is today filled with reports of the horsetrading between Benny Gantz’s Blue-White and the Joint List. The Joint List is demanding that Gantz walk back support for the Trump deal and Gantz is said to be doing just that. That in itself is big news. Trump’s deal seems to have backfired. During the campaign, Gantz had no political choice but to support the deal of the century, so as to win “soft-right” votes among Jews, Ksenia Svetlova told J Street. And Gantz’s partners Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid both essentially endorsed the terms of the deal.
But Trump’s deal includes “transfer” of Palestinian citizens from Israeli territory to Palestinian territory. And the marvel here is that Gantz has had to eat his words not because of anything a Jewish politician said: but because of the power of Palestinians!
The liberal Zionists commenting on the election are all amazed at the Palestinian turnout and the results. “Their power is only increasing,” says Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum. He says the Palestinians are sitting pretty with Gantz because they actually have an interest in going to a fourth election: they can do better yet.
“What we should understand fully is that There is no life, no existence for the Israel left and even center without the partnership with the Israeli Arabs. That is becoming quite clear after a year and a half,” Svetlova told J Street. She says the Jewish “left in Israel is almost non-existent today.”
Which makes Netanyahu’s race baiting — leaving out the 15 seats of the Palestinians as non-factors in a recent chalktalk in which he only counted the 105 Jewish parliamentarians as factors — the more repulsive.
Of course it will not be easy for Gantz to build his minority government. He needs at least 12 seats from the Joint List, it is said; plus the 7 rightwingers of settler/politician Avigdor Lieberman’s party. Gantz must also hold his 33 Blue-White seats; but two rightwingers in Gantz’s list are refusing to go along.
The fascinating thing about the horsetrading is that Gantz’s own right-centrist team, men like Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid, are trying to build the coalition and threatening to throw out the two rightwing parliamentarians, so that Israel doesn’t have a fourth election. They are also taking on Netanyahu’s racebaiting, with soft racebaiting of their own. “Contrary to the lies that Bibi [Netanyahu] is spreading, the Joint List would not be part of this government,” Lapid wrote Tuesday, per the Times of Israel. “They will vote once from the outside [to back the government], and there it will end.”
The big theme on the center left in Israel now is, We need to get past Netanyahu for Israel to move forward, we have the numbers narrowly. But that means working with the newly powerful Joint List. As Ofer Shelah of Blue-White said last week, It is the “state of Israel against the state of Netanyahu.”
“Netanyahu’s statement yesterday that he won the election because the Joint Arab List doesn’t count is his official declaration of war on the Jewish and democratic state of Israel,” Shelach interpreted.
Even the Washington Post writes (per Jewish Insider) of “the curdling of Mr. Netanyahu’s ‘victory’” in last week’s election. While J Street is warning that Netanyahu’s statement alienates Americans, including Jews. Dylan Williams writes:
It’s hard to overstate the damage this kind of racist rhetoric has on perceptions of Israel among a huge range of Americans, especially young people, minority communities and the great majority of US Jews from all backgrounds whose values are diametrically opposed to such bigotry
The rise of the Joint List is great news for liberal Zionists. Many have been celebrating the Joint List’s get-out-the-vote campaign and its unprecedented strength as signs of the health of Israel’s supposed democracy. Tal Schneider at Israel Policy Forum says that the Joint List’s success has reminded some of the outsider Mizrahi Jews breaking down the LaborAshkenazi political elites in the 1970s, under the leadership of Menachem Begin’s Herut/Likud party. Michael Koplow and Yossi Alpher have saluted Joint List leader Ayman Odeh’s great political skills in building his party (though both echo Netanyahu themes in characterizing elements of the Joint List as supporters of “terrorists”).
The theme of the liberal Zionists is that, Israeli politics are fluid. Labor is down to 3 seats after leading the nation not so long ago. So some day the Joint List could actually be part of an Israeli government… Or if Blue-White’s power play fails, and there is ultimately a “unity” government of Blue-White and Likud, Joint list leader Ayman Odeh could be the face of the opposition in an Israeli Knesset– as a Muslim.
The question I have is what effect this will have on liberal Zionism. The only hopeful trend in Israeli society is the power of Palestinians, who are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist. It seems obvious to me that American liberal Zionists should adopt more of the Joint List’s liberal program and abandon Jewish nationalism.