drawing by Biderman Haaretz
On April 5th, President Rivlin received the delegations of the 13 lists that crossed the minimum electoral threshhold, in order to ask them which candidate they chose to form the new government, following the fourth round of legislative elections in two years.
That same day started again the trial of Benyamin Netanyahu, current Prime Minister, charged with fraud, breach of trust and corruption, with the hearing of the prosecution witnesses. This coincidence is a blatant sign of the moral and institutional crisis the country is groing through today.
In order to analyse the chances to get out of it, we must reexamine the results ot the last elections :
– First of all, the participation rate went down by 3 points since March 2020’s third round, which shows the population’s weariness because of those repeated elections. However it is interesting to analyse more thoroughly the parties which directly suffered that decline of votes, in order to understand the message :
– Both Arab parties (United List and Ra’am) , lost together within one year more than 200000 votes and five deputees, their electors holding them accountable for their division and blaming them most of all for their lack of interest in their problems. With 45,6 %, Arab electors have the lowest participation rate since 2001.
– Then, the Likud that lost close to 300000 votes with a decline of almost 20 % in its strongholds of Southern cities. Some electors chose instead Gideon Sa’ar’s dissident list “Tikva Hadasha“ (New hope) or simply abstained.
– Both Orthodox parties keep the same number of deputees while they have 10 % less votes since last year. Some of their electors answered Netanyahu’s call asking them to vote for the religious Zionists list—including Kahanists deputies—in order to make sure that it crosses the minimum threshold, which is the case with 6 deputees.
– Both center lists (Yesh Atid and Blue White) and both Left lists (Avoda and Meretz) add up to 1 374000 votes or so, 114000 votes fewer than last year. But while the center lists lose almost 317000 electors, the left lists won close to 203 000 electors. It is estimated that most electors who defaulted to center lists referred to Gideon Sa’ar’s new list, hoping he would be a candidate likely to beat Netenyahu. For the same reason, some electors may even have voted for Yamina, Naphtali Bennett’s list, which won 33000 votes more than in 2000.
In conclusion, we note a stronger mobilization of the center and left electorate than that of the right, which allowed both left parties to get a rather good score : 7 for Avoda, and 6 for Meretz. Remember that since 1015 both parties, whether they run separately or on a common list, are having trouble to get more than ten deputies all together. One week before that fourth round in 2 years, the polls predicted that Meretz might not cross the minimum threshold of 4 deputees. And that two months ago, the Labor party could not cross it. It would have been a historical turning point since one (or both) heirs of the two parties having played a major part in the creation of the State, the Mapai or Mapam, which gathered all together a majority of 60 deputies during the first Knesset, would have disappeared from the political landscape.
This chart presents the results of all elections since February 2003. Except for that of March 2006 which resulted for the last time in the victory of a center left government led by Ehud Olmert, all elections have been won by the Likud. And since 2009, with Benyamin Netanyahu as its leader, this party rules the political landscape.
We may draw two conclusions from the review of this chart :
—Within 20 years, the parties from the center settled permanently between the right and the left.
—All together, the center and the left get at best a third of the votes or so, and 20 years apart, we note a relative stability of that result, except that the relative weight of the left has been cut in half compared to that of the center. It had even divided by 3,5 in 2020 when many electors had privileged a strategic vote by choosing Benny Gantz’s Blue White list.
What are the prospects now ?
These elections, like the ones before, having revolved around Natanyahu’s personality, neither the “pro-Bibi“ block (with 52 deputees), nor the “anti-Bibi“ block (with 57 deputees) is able to reach the magical number of 61 votes in order to form a government. Netanyahu—who was however running in the most favourable conditions for him, after having succeeded in getting the millions of vaccines that allowed Israel to overcome the epidemic, and after signing peace agreements with several sunni-led countries—has been disavowed for the fourth consecutive time by the majority of the population. Two lists have not yet chosen their camp : Bennett’s list (7 deputees) and Ra’am’s list (4 deputees), a party close to the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Mansour Abbas. Unless defections occur from one camp to the next, this phase of negotiations will last several weeks.
However, these elections will mark a turning point since for the first time, given the blockage, both camps will need the votes of the Arab parties to ensure that their candidate becomes Prime Minister. Netanyahu, by encouraging the break-up of the United Arab List that allowed the ‘Islamist’ party to be represented in the Knesset with 4 deputees, ‘ kosherized‘ in a way the Arab vote. Mansour Abbas’s prime time televised address of April 1st on all channels, in which, speaking in hebrew, he appealed, “in his behalf and in behalf of his electors, to create an opportunity for a shared life, in the holy and blessed land for the followers of the three religions and both people‘, without mentioning his Palestinian identity and abstaining from choosing one camp or the other, is a sign of that change. Let us remember that barely one year ago, Gantz was unable to rise to power because a few deputees of his party refused to lean on the Arab vote.
When you will read this newsletter, President Rivlin will probably have named a candidate who will try to form a government. He stated, attracting the critics of Netanyahu’s inner circle, that he would choose the person who will be the most likely to succeed in doing it and that he hoped that “the elected officials (would) listen to the Israeli people and the people’s demand for unconventional connections and cooperation across different sectors of society for tne sake of the citizens“ . As for the organizers of the protest movement, they have already called for a resumption of demonstrations in case Netanyahu is appointed to succeed himself, while his trial started again April 5th.
In various medias, political commentators succeed each other to offer their crisis exit scenario. Among these, a fifth round is probably not the least unlikely !