The election is upon us now – only two days away – and the situation is not substantially different from what it was when I last wrote. Neither camp has a clear majority in the polls. Likud and Blue & White are reasonably neck-in-neck. Maddeningly, each poll is somewhat different, although all conclude that neither bloc has 61 mandates.
Most of my readers are not in Israel and will not be voting. But I address myself first to those who are. What is more, I ask all of you who are outside of Israel, but have family or friends here, to urgently share my message:
Because the campaign has not been inspiring, apathy has overtaken many. It becomes tempting to simply sit out this election, and indeed polls are indicating a low turnout.
But it is crucial to vote.
If you wish to see a right wing government in place, you must vote: Vote Likud, or Yamina, or Otzma. But cast your vote. A groundswell of voters can make the critical difference.
Once votes are tallied after the election, the president will meet with representatives of all the parties, who will make their recommendations for prime minister. The president will then select the person who received the most recommendations and charge him or her with forming a coalition (a government).
Netanyahu insists that it is imperative for Likud to be the party with the most mandates going into this process. His argument is that since neither Likud nor Blue & White is going to secure 61 or more mandates in the selection process, the president may select the head of the party with the most mandates. And he wants to be that person. To that end he has been conducting a campaign that is designed to attract right wing voters, to strength Likud. His eyes are not on supporters of Blue & White, but significantly on supporters of Yamina.
Ayelet Shaked, chair of Yamina (a merger of Bayit Yehudi, National Union and the New Right), argues, however, that if the right wing parties do not have a strong presence, then there will not be a solidly right wing government: Netanyahu will tilt centrist/left. She is not wrong.
She points out that what matters is the number of recommendations Netanyahu receives, not the number of mandates Likud itself achieved.
There have been diverse efforts by Netanyahu to strengthen Likud. Over three months ago, Kulanu, – headed by Moshe Kahlon, who originally came out of Likud – was folded into Likud.
At the end of August, Zehut – headed by Moshe Feiglin, who also originally came out of Likud – withdrew from the race after the prime minister offered him a portfolio and adjustment in laws on cannabis (an issue important to Feiglin). Feiglin, who was nowhere near the threshold, has come out ahead. But I have not seen any significant indication that this has improved Likud’s standing.
Earlier there had been talk about Otzma Yehudit – a far right party currently headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir (pictured) – joining in a technical merger with Yamina. I have heard the various stories as to why this didn’t happen, but cannot speak to it with certainty.
Right now, polls are showing that Otzma Yehudit is going to pass the threshold (3.25% of the national vote, equivalent to four seats). Netanyahu had offered a very modest enticement to Otzma if they would pull out: they declined. Of course, now that Otzma’s people have seen the latest polls, they are most determinedly in. Four mandates could make a difference for the right wing bloc.
There is a new party, very minor, and very right, called Noam. This group, which had no chance of passing the threshold, finally announced today that they are dropping out, which is good news as votes for this party would have been totally lost.
It must be remembered that all the predictions might be wrong. But in the event that neither bloc can achieve the necessary 61 mandates, some sort of deal or compromise will be necessary. Our nation would not tolerate yet another election, and Netanyahu has said he would not move in that direction.
It is broadly expected that if Netanyahu cannot put together a right-wing coalition, he will not opt for a unity government with Blue & White, but attempt some compromise short of this.
He might try to lure one faction of Blue & White – Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party – to break away. (Blue & White is comprised of Gantz’s party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem.) Other thoughts are that he might bring in Amir Peretz, who heads a very weak Labor Party, or Orly Levy-Abekasis, considered a bit of a wild card. She has merged her Gesher Party, also very weak, with Labor.
The presumed lure for someone on the left would be a social welfare portfolio or commitments with regard to social welfare legislation or policies. This would provide an individual from a party without political clout an opportunity to promote his/her agenda in certain respects. But there is a predisposition against enabling a Netanyahu victory.
Ehud Barak had merged his Independence Party with the far left Meretz and Stav Shafir of Labor to form the Democratic Camp. His ugly campaign, designed simply to take down Binyamin Netanyahu, epitomizes some of the worst of this campaign season. May he float off into electoral oblivion.
The real spoiler remains Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beytenu, who seems mighty pleased with himself. Instead of acting constructively, he has reveled in his trouble-making role, promoting an ugly anti-haredi, anti-religious perspective that is distasteful and has a phony aura, to boot.
Likud has been courting the Russian secular voters that are Lieberman’s natural constituency, but so far not with enormous success.
What may yet have an effect on the Russian vote is the lightening trip Prime Minister Netanyahu made to Russia on Thursday evening, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence in Sochi.
Putin said to Netanyahu (emphasis added):
“…The purpose of this meeting is to maintain a consistent and good relationship…Thanks to your actions, there’s development in security relations…
“I know that Israel is facing a historic challenge. You’re about to have elections…It’s known that there are one and a half million residents from Russia living in Israel. We have always related to them like our people. It is very important to us who will be elected to the Knesset and I hope that whoever enters the Knesset will preserve the friendship between our countries and further strengthen our relationship.”
Netanyahu described the meeting thus:
“We went into the security issue in great detail. Very detailed work. They always asked if our freedom of action would be preserved. And it is indeed preserved and grounded in understanding…
“These meetings are work meetings with maps and with intelligence updates and an exchange of information so that we can continue to operate in the region, in a very crowded area. The goal has been reached.” (Emphasis added)
And then there is this potentially helpful tweet yesterday from President Trump:
“I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries.
“I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month.”
In the wake of rockets launched from Gaza late last week, the prime minister declared that he might have to initiate a war against Hamas before the election. He had a great need to appear tough, because a campaign speech he had been delivering was interrupted by a rocket alarm, and his opponents utilized it – unfairly – to make him seem weak. But his declaration was blatantly political.
Here I share an op-ed by Prof. Hillel Frisch, of Bar Ilan University, which provides a bit of perspective: “Why, for the time being, bear Hamas?” (Emphasis added)
“…Iran clearly wants a hot war on Israel’s southern front to deflect attention from its strategic build up in Syria, Hezbollah’s Lebanon, and Iraq… Iran is using Islamic Jihad as to tool to provoke Hamas and Israel into a large-scale confrontation…
“To prevent the Iranian build up might require massive retaliation in Lebanon…
“Despite election rhetoric, no serious politician or political party disagrees either with Netanyahu’s reading of Israel’s geostrategic predicament, the steadfast way he pursues it or the need to bear the pain and shame of a quiet southern front…
“Here…is the difference between Netanyahu’s acumen and courage and [his] detractors’ empty rhetoric…”
But we find political rhetoric in all quarters, and separating this from facts is no easy task. Nothing, my friends, is simple.
As promised, the Cabinet met this morning in the Jordan Valley. This was a symbolic statement of significance, as rarely does the Cabinet meet outside of sovereign Israel.
At the meeting, the government passed a resolution to legalize the Jordan Valley outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho, after Attorney General Mandelblit, who had said a caretaker government could not take this step, relented.
For the record, this community is on state land and was the site of a Jewish community during the Second Temple period.
“We will apply sovereignty, said Netanyahu, “in the Jordan Valley and the Northern Dead Sea as soon as the next government is established in the next Knesset…”
At the very same time, Naftali Bennett has been sounding alarms regarding what would follow with Netanyahu’s promise to apply sovereignty to the communities in Judea and Samaria. He has released a map showing isolated spots where there would be Israeli sovereignty surrounded by the black of a Palestinian state. This disaster, he is saying, represents Trump’s plan, which Netanyahu would accept.
Here we confront a large dollop of spin blended with some truthful aspects. Bennett does not know, cannot know, in detail, what Trump’s plan entails. He is promoting this map as fact in order to emphasis the need to vote Yamina, which would guard the situation.
I would concur with that need! I myself have already expressed serious concern about anything less than sovereignty over all of Area C.
But here is what Netanyahu said today: regarding the application of “Israeli sovereignty to all our communities in Judea and Samaria, including the blocs and the territory outside the blocs, and other areas that are essential for our security and our heritage – these things will come up in the “Deal of the Century” plan, which will come very soon after the elections.”
This is quite different from sovereignty just over isolated communities – different from what he implied just days ago, actually. Is he now simply enlarging on what he always intended, or has he now modified his vision in response to Bennett’s scathing critique? (This would make Bennett’s case quite strongly.)
Is this vision, as Netanyahu presents it, sufficient for guarding our rights and our security needs? Is it wise to go along with the Trump proposal??
Questions yet to be resolved, and hopefully by a right wing coalition!
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.