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And the loser is…

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Coming out of the second electoral campaign in 5 months, none of the two candidates for the position of Prime Minister is able to form a government. Netanyahu got the support of 54 deputies: 32 from the Likud, and those of his “natural allies”—the two ultra-orthodox parties and Yamina, a coalition of nationalist movements and of religious movements led by Ayelet Shaked. As for Benny Gantz, he has the support of 54 elected deputies: 33 from his Blue-White list, those of the two lists of the Zionist left—the Avoda-Gesher list and the Democratic Union born of the merger of Meretz with a few leading figures from the Labour Party and Ehud Barak—and 10 out of the 13 deputies of the Joint List including the 4 “Arab parties”. (It is the first time, since the formation of the government led by Yitzhak Rabin after the 1992 Parliamentary election, that Arab deputies support a Jewish candidate for the position of Prime Minister.) Between these two blocks, Avigdor Lieberman, leading the 8 deputies of his Israel Beitenu list, chose to support neither candidate, faithful to his project of a secular National Union government “without  Orthodox or messianic members”.

President Rivlin did not succeed in convincing Gantz and Netanyahu to reach an agreement in order to hold alternately the Office of Prime Minister of a “National Union” government —especially since the leader of the Likud wanted to impose the presence of the religious parties inside that coalition, and also because Gantz refused to sit in a government with Netanyahu in case the latter was indicted. Thus, Rivlin was compelled to grant him a mandate to form a government, since Netanyahu got the support of the larger number of deputies. According to the law, the President is required to choose the candidate most liable to achieve successfully this task, even if his list is not the largest. Netanyahu, with 55 deputies against Gantz’s 54, was the best positioned, especially since the 10 deputies of the Joint List  announced that they would not sit in a Gantz government and would support him from outside. Netanyahu has 28 days to succeed, plus 14 extra days if necessary. If he fails, the President will grant that mandate to Gantz or to any other candidate who, according to him, would be liable to get the support of 61 deputies.

Shall we see a repetition of what happened after the election of April 2019, when Netanyahu had been unable to form a government because Lieberman refused to support a government which would not be committed to implement the conscription of young ultra-Orthodox Jews. Netanyahu had then decided to ask the Knesset to vote its own dissolution instead of giving his mandate back to the President. The difference between the two situations lies in the election results. Strictly speaking, there is no winner, but it is quite easy to identify the loser. Netanyahu did not pass the challenge of getting a majority relying on the parties of the right and the ultra-Orthodox parties. Between the elections of April and September, the right block has lost 300 000 votes, and the Likud, that had merged this time with the Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon and the Zehut list led by Moshe Feiglin, got only 32 deputies while, with the same parties, it had obtained 41 deputies last April—35 from the Likud, 4 from Kulanu and 2 possibly won by Zehut which could not cross the electoral threshold. Rather than a victory of the left block (that got stronger between the two elections, gaining 80 000 votes, not even counting the votes of the Arab parties), what happened was a defection of the Likud voters, in spite of all the efforts of Netanyahu who multiplied media stunts and promises. After 10 years of Bibism—the Israeli version of the populist wave we have been witnessing in many countries these last few years—, it seems that most Israelis aspire to a change. They do not want to live any more in that climate of continuous attacks against the left,  the Arabs, the  media, the judges or policemen Netanyahu accuses of collusion against him because of the legal cases he is involved in.

Another lesson of those elections is the important mobilization of the Arab electorate that  increased roughly by 40%, and resulted in the election of 13 deputies instead of 10 in April. That surge in Arab voters has probably been a reaction to the hate campaign led against Arabs by the Likud which was not allowed by the electoral committee to put partisan observers with cameras in the polling stations of Arab localities. But that mobilization of the electorate is above all a token of a major change of the position of the Arab citizens of Israel with regard to the State. Several polls and opinion surveys show that Israeli Arabs wish to become integrated in the country, and that they are more concerned by the improvement of their everyday life than by the situation in the West Bank. According to a survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute, 76% of the Arab voters wish their representatives to participate in the government (at the same time, there is a decrease of resistance among Jewish voters: only 50% are opposed to that participation, against 66% in 2017).

The next weeks wil be eventful and the potential scenarios are numerous, worthy of the series “House of Cards”. Gantz is betting on Netanyahu’s failure to poach deputies from other lists in order to get the majority of 61 backers he needs. He hopes that after that failure, and after Netanyahu’s indictment (expected in the next few weeks), a number of the Prime Minister’s “natural allies” will drop him. The Likud might even implode, in which case some candidates to his succession wouldn’t fear any more to declare themselves. Gantz would then be able to form a National Unity government without Netanyahu. However, nothing is sure. Netanyahu, who is at the top of his game when he is cornered, will probably fight to the end in order to maintain his position, which protects him from a would-be indictment.

Will Israel succeed in avoiding a third electoral campaign ? President Rivlin insisted on the necessity of excluding that scenario during his speech, when he granted Netanyahu a mandate to form a government. The people don’t want it and the country does not have the means to extend an electoral campaign it has been involved in for about a year, while the budget deficit exceeds 15 billions shekels; moreover, the social situation is getting worse, and the region is in danger of flaring up once again because of the Irano-Saudi conflict.

We hope that these election results will announce the end of the Netanyahu era. We hope that this new year will see the start of the change we wish for like many Israelis, and that Israel will finally take a new direction.

In 5780, thanks to your support, we will pursue our action in order to make the voice of reason heard. We wish Shana Tova to all of you. May this new year bring you all that you wish for. May 5780 be—at last—the year of peace. 

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