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Israeli Elections : the clock is running

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The lists in race for the “second round” of the Israeli elections have been  tabled on August 1st. 32 lists this time, 15 less than in April. According to the last polls, only 9 of them should cross the eligility threshold of 3,25% of the voters, namely 4 deputees; it will be a record low: since 1948, the number of parties represented in the Knesset has varied between 10 and 15.

Since the vote for the dissolution of the 21st Knesset last April, because of Netanyahu’s inability to establish a government, the key word of the Israeli political life has been “grouping”. Having learned from the experience of last elections, during which some lists did not cross the minimum threshold, mostly on the right side, right and left parties have tried to establish common lists.

On the right of Likud, Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice for the previous government, under whose ægis have been voted numerous laws threatening the workings of the Israeli democracy, such as the “Nation State Law”, became the  most important political woman of the country by taking the leadership of the religious right parties. Number two, behind  Naphtali Bennett, of the Hayamin Ha”hadash (the New Right) list—a party they had created together, that did not cross the minimum threshold last April—she had nonetheless tried to come back to the Likud following the dissolution of the Knesset. But after Netanyanu refused, complying with his wife’s Sara’s veto, Shaked took advantage of her high popularity among right voters to take the leadership of the New Right party to begin with, and then to convince the leaders of the Zionist religious movement to accept the merging of their lists under her leadership. In spite of the pressure placed upon him by Netanyahu—who preferred to have two lists on the right of the Likud, in order to avoid a loss of votes—, Rabbi Peretz, leader of the Rights Union and current minister of Education in the transitional government, accepted the leadership of that new party born of a merging to be held by a secular woman. Shaked then tried till the last minute to include in her list the racist Kahanists of Otsma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and the Zehout list (Identity) of Rabbi Moshe Feiglin. But Naphtali Bennet opposed that merging, fearing that an alliance with those extremists might scare his most liberal electors, encouraging them to vote for centrist lists. In that case we may hope there won’t be any Kahanist representative in the next Knesset.

The Likud is still the ruling right party but it seems that, like in last April, Netanyahu won’t be able to form a government by joining forces only with that new right list and orthodox parties.

Avigdor Lieberman, with his list Israel Beteinu (the Jewish House), is already the winner of these new elections with the 10 deputees promised by the polls. For this reason, Netanyahu chose to target him by presenting him as a “leftist” and to focus his campaign on the Russian voters, electoral base of Lieberman’s supporters. He is now trying to invite Putin to Israel on the eve of elections in order to show that unlike his competitors, he is “way out of their league”, to use the terms of his electoral advertising, since he is supported by the main leaders in the world. Lieberman clearly announces that he would call to the establishment of a national unity government with Likud, Blue White and Israel Beteinu. And if he did not succeed in so doing, in case  Blue White refused to participate in a government led by Netanyahu if he were to be indicted, he would then ask the Likud to appoint another candidate as Prime Minister. Facing that threat, the “Netanyahu family” and its followers within the Likud, fearing more than anything else Bibi’s marginalization as a first step to jail, required the first 40 Likud candidates to undertake in writing  to choose no other candidate than Netanyahu.

The centrist list Blue White led by Benny Ganz is still neck and neck with the Likud, according to the polls. But the potential additional votes to its left does not allow it to hope, for the time being, to form a center left government.

The major event to the left has been Ehud Barak’s comeback. Controversial personality, disliked by part of the public, he is however the only one to have defeated Netanyahu during the 1999 elections. He has first created a list with various personalities like Yair Golan, ex-Deputy Chief of Staff, and Professor Yifat Biton, very much involved in social fights and candidate on the Gesher list in April. He then participated in the creation of the Democratic Union with the Meretz and several personalities from the Labour Party like Stav Shaffir, beaten by Amir Peretz for the leadership of that party, the ex-vice-president of the Israeli green  party and the Reform leader.

As for the Labour Party, its new president Amir Peretz chose to join forces with the Gesher list that was unable to cross the minimum threshold last April. Gesher is a list with a social agenda, led by Orly Levy-Abecassis, a rightist personality. But she is  also the daughter of the ex-deputy David Levy, an ally of Rabin in 1992. In spite of a few conflicts within the party—and Shaffir’s decision to leave it—Peretz was willing, with this merging, to attract the electors of suburban towns, voting traditionally for the right, but who might be drawn by this tandem of two leaders of Moroccan origin, one living in Sderot and the other in Tiberiade.

Finally, the four “Arab parties” reached an agreement in order to piece together the United Arab List that allowed them to obtain 13 deputees in 2015. But will this agreement be enough  to mobilize again an electorate that characterized itself last April by a low voter turnout ? It will be one of the keys of the future elections. Meanwhile, according to a recent poll, only 42% of the Arab Israelis have said they would vote for sure next September, 26% said they would abstain, and 32% were still hesitating. 34% of the absentionists explain their decision by the feeling that their vote has no influence at all on their everyday life, 34% by the disappointment inspired by the United Arab list, and 14% invoke ideological reasons, 6% abstain because of the Nation State Law, and the rest for various reasons.

Six weeks before the elections, all we know for certain is that:

  • Only 3 parties out of 9, potentially present in the next Knesset, call unconditionally to the formation of a government led by Netanyahu: the Likud and the two orthodox parties (Yaadut Hatorah and Shas). The list of the United Rights led by Shaked is divided on that issue; Bennet and Shaked being opposed to the support of a candidate if he were to be indicted.
  • Lieberman won’t participate in a coalition composed of rightist parties and orthodox ones.
  • A government of National Union could exist only without Netanyahu, unless the investigating judge decides to put an end to the legal procedure against him, which seems unlikely.
  • There will be no 3rd round, which opens the door to several scenarios.

For the time being the campaign has not really started yet. In the summer drowsiness, opposing political camps observe each other and react to the least statement or video posted by candidates on social networks. It is about time for parties to stop playing with little phrases and present their proposals in order to answer to the real problems concerning the everyday life and the future of Israelis, if they wish to motivate them to vote in these elections, the third elections in one year, if we count the municipal elections of October 2018.

It is time for Israel to embark on an new direction, in order to strengthen democracy by guaranteeing, for example, the independence of the Supreme Court and the right of minorities, and by amending the “Nation State Law” in the spirit of the text of the Declaration of Independence; a direction allowing—which is not true today—to develop values of tolerance between the different components of the nation, without letting any of them impose its convictions on the others; a direction allowing at last to search actively for an agreement with Palestinians on the basis of two States, which would put an end to occupation and guarantee the future of Israel as a Jewish AND democratic State.

Last July, Netanyahu became the longest-serving Prime minister since the creation of the country, exceeding the longevity of David Ben Gurion.  That event, largely commented in the medias, elicited the comparison of the inheritances left by both men. We leave to future historians the task of  analyzing it. However, and given the current situation, the feeling that Israel had already entered the post-Netanyahu era was present  in most comments. The immediate future will tell us if it is true !

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