This past Monday was election day here in Israel, and the people came out in impressive numbers – more than 70% in the end.
Exit polls released after 10 PM Monday night indicated a solid win for Likud, which was polling several mandates ahead of Blue and White. The right wing bloc (Likud, Yamina, Shas and UTJ) was predicted to pull in possibly as many as 60 mandates, just one short of what is necessary to form a coalition.
At a victory speech in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Netanyahu was greeted by cheers as he declared this victory to be “the biggest win of my life…The victory is even sweeter, because it was against all odds…We turned the lemons into lemonade.”
And indeed it was a stunning turnaround, after predictions that Binyamin Netanyahu was finished.
Herb Keinon, writing in the JPost on Tuesday, referred to “King Bibi, the magician.”
“…just two weeks before the start of a trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust; with a good part – but by no means all – of the media against him; with a bevy of former security chiefs and diplomats declaring his continued rule would endanger democracy – Netanyahu again defeated the odds and pulled out what, according to the exit polls, looks like a victory…
“No one campaigns better than Netanyahu. No one. He has energy, charisma, and a once-in-a-generation ability to talk to his voters…
“He also has a record of achievements over the last decade – in security, diplomacy and the economy – on which to lean. Most people, if they are able to look beyond their personal opinion of the prime minister, believe the country truly is in a much better place across a wide range of metrics than it was before he regained power in 2009…
“Monday’s results show that for a majority of the nation the indictments don’t bother them that much. Either they don’t believe Netanyahu is corrupt, or – if they do – they don’t think it warrants throwing a leader of his stature out the window.” (Emphasis added)
Keinon’s analysis is extremely pertinent with regard to what has followed in the last couple of days.
Those of us—the majority among Zionists—who support a right wing government were euphoric over the exit polls.
The prime minister declared that he wanted to start working on the coalition as soon as possible; key members of Likud spoke about work already being done to bring one or more people as necessary into the coalition, to bring it to the necessary 61.
Meanwhile, Benny Gantz declared that he “will continue to fight.”
That euphoria late Monday was generated by the prospect of 60 mandates for the right-wing bloc, but the actual votes still had to be counted. Tuesday, the number slipped, and with it the first flush of heady optimism. Likud was ahead of Blue & White, the right wing bloc was way ahead of the center-left (excluding the Arab bloc, which would not join a coalition). But we had not made it home yet.
The lower the number of mandates the right bloc has secured, the more difficult it will be to build a coalition. To do so requires bringing into the coalition members of one or more of the center-left parties. This is no easy task, because the over-riding goal of much of the center-left is to stymie Netanyahu in an effort to bring him to failure.
This attitude, devoid of genuine concern for the good of the nation, is what makes the heart heavy.
We are not likely to find members of the center-left parties who will say, “We wish it had been otherwise, but the people have spoken. Now the nation needs healing, with a stable government. A fourth election would be destructive. And so, if we can have this and this portfolio, or committee chairmanship, we will come along.”
As I write, it appears that the right wing bloc has 58 mandates. The count is still unofficial but this number is expected to hold. That is three short of what is required for a governing coalition.
The center-left bloc (Blue & White, and a Labor-Gesher-Meretz merger) has only 40 mandates and will not be able to form a coalition. Even if the obstructionist Avigdor Lieberman, chair of Yisrael Beitenu, were to join with his seven mandates it would not be nearly enough. Only if the Joint List (Arab) were to join, with their 15 mandates would it be sufficient, and that is not going to happen.
What this means, then, is that unless the right bloc manages to get to 61, there will again be elections. A thoroughly distressing prospect. A disgusting prospect.
I will not belabor here the various rumors regarding who Bibi might manage to bring in. That will unfold in coming days, and it will be up to him to manage it. Not a simple or easy task.
The latest suggestion involves bringing in the Labor party, which, in fact, voiced great dissatisfaction over its treatment by Blue & White during the campaign. Long the governing party of Israel, Labor is now rapidly sinking into oblivion (with seven mandates including Gesher and Meretz!). The thought in certain right wing circles is that this might fly because joining the coalition might provide a sort of political life raft to the Labor MKs and give them an opportunity to influence social welfare policies.
A downside is that Labor is opposed to application of sovereignty in Judea & Samaria.
Labor Party chair Amir Peretz:
Avigdor Lieberman, who now claims he will not sit with the ultra-Orthodox parties, has not been ruled out either – although the prospects of including him are dim. Broadly his perspective is right wing, if we can really say anything definitive about his perspective these days.
In the midst of this difficult situation, Blue & White interjected another note yesterday (Wednesday) which is infuriating and ugly:
They have declared intention to pass a basic law in the Knesset forbidding anyone who is indicted from serving as prime minister (or from forming a new government).
While the center-left cannot form a coalition because the Joint List would not be part of it, the center-left, with the voting participation in the Knesset of that Arab bloc, would have a majority to pass such a law.
There are a host of legal questions regarding this: For example, can a private bill (not sponsored by the gov’t) be promoted during a time of an interim government. The biggest question, however, is whether the High Court would allow this to stand on appeal. I am not complacent about any of this.
Though it seems likely, we do not know with certainty that all center-left parties would participate in this vote. (Lieberman now says he would support it.)
What is most enraging about this gambit is that it is, once again, not directed at what’s best for the nation. The goal, plain and simple, is to destroy Netanyahu. The entire campaign was run this way, devoid of real content regarding policies.
In doing this now ‒ immediately following an election in which the electorate made it clear that indictment or no indictment their choice is Bibi ‒ they are acting in a spirit that is undemocratic.
Netanyahu says Gantz is trying to steal the vote, and he will not let that happen. He’s got great lawyers, but I cannot speak for how they will proceed.
Right now, we can only watch this unfold. And pray.
What is happening here echoes for me what has gone on in the US. Trump won the election, and the left wing didn’t like it. Instead of resigning themselves to make the best of it, and working towards the next election, they were determined to take him down via impeachment.
The left failed to do this in the US. May the left have no more success here in Israel!
I have addressed this before but think it important to be explicit about it again here: I believe the entire indictment process was politicized; Netanyahu may have made some foolish decisions, but his actions do not qualify as criminal. What is more, one of the indictments, involving Bibi’s efforts to secure good press, presents a genuine threat to the freedom of the press.
Having successfully secured the indictments, the left utilizes them to further attack and stymie the prime minister. That was the theme of Blue & White’s campaign: Do you want a corrupt prime minister? There was nothing about whether he was an effective prime minister or whether Gantz has the capacity and the experience to do better.
My understanding is that, as the law currently stands, Bibi can stay in office until such time as he might be found guilty by the court.
Until this time, which may never come to be, he should be considered innocent.
His trial is scheduled to begin on March 17. It saddens me to report that President Ruby Rivlin seems to be getting into the act in this regard.
He does not seem to be moving with all possible alacrity to get the process going for forming a coalition, as he had in the past. Rather, he is drawing on the letter of the law to delay this process so that Bibi will likely be given the mandate to form a coalition on or about March 17. It is difficult not to conclude that Rivlin expects the juxtaposition of the two events to have an impact on the consciousness of the electorate.
As to the trial itself, many have expressed concern that Netanyahu’s pre-occupation with this would prevent him from functioning. What seems to be the case, however, is that the early months of the trial would be involved with procedural matters and arguments between the lawyers – none of which would be a distraction to the prime minister at all.
The trial could actually go on for years. They have something like 200 witnesses who are scheduled to testify, with testimonies and cross-examinations handled by the lawyers.
Additionally, I have read that because of the coronavirus scare, the court may table full meetings and allow only skeleton procedures to take place in the immediate future. It thus seems foolish to anticipate that his involvement in the court proceedings would be an undo distraction to Netanyahu for some time well into the future, if at all.
I will not address here the entire question of application of sovereignty, which was to proceed after the election. At the moment, in the middle of the political scuffle, I have no answers.
Bibi was very confident about doing this right after the election. It may still come to pass in the near future if that government can be formed.
We must pray that it does, as we continue to monitor events.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.