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Israeli elections: on the way to a third ballot

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On March 2nd, Israelis will go back to the polls for the third time within one year. As expected, the 22nd Knesset voted to dissolve itself during the night of 11-12th December, 69 days after its enthronement, after the 21st and 20th Knesset had done so.The leaders of the main parties had nonetheless sworn it would not happen again; but they were unable to form either a “minority” government or a national union goverment gathering the two main parties, Likud and Blue White. According to the polls, most Israelis are convinced that Netanyahu is mainly accountable for that failure. In spite of his campaign statements, he refused to promise he would not ask for a parliamentary immunity as required by Benny Gantz in order to accept to form a national union government with him. Netanyahu showed that he was ready to do anything in order to escape prosecution, which is not a surprise, but the reaction of the Likud’s central committee and of his allies of the right is quite astonishing, since they keep supporting him in spite of his indictment for fraud and breach of trust in three cases and for corruption in one of them. The only explanation of that blind conformity lies in the strong support Netanyahu still finds among his voters, which makes him the best candidate of the right.

However, the man usually described as a “great magician” because he won one election after the other, failed twice this year to gather a majority, and according to the polls, he won’t succeed in doing so next March. But the most interesting result of those polls is that for the first time in a long time his opponent, Benny Gantz, is deemed by the electors (38% against 40%) as capable as Netanyahu to hold the office of Prime Minister. Such a result shows the progress made by Gantz who has succeeded in a few months to convince the public he has the capacities required to handle the country, when he entered politics less than a year ago; while Netanyahu has dominated the political scene for 24 years and marked it with his personal stamp for many years to come.

During the next few days, the Supreme Court will have to decide whether a deputy facing several serious charges like Netanyahu is allowed to form a coalition. Even though there is a precedent, since in 1992, under Rabin’s government, the Supreme Court had ruled against the appointment of Arie Derhy and of another Shas deputy to ministerial positions, for similar facts, it is unlikely that it will take the same decision this time. First thing, the situation is not exactly the same, and most of all, such a decision would be perceived as an inteference in the political debate and would have far-reaching consequences.

The new electoral campaign has not quite started yet. Contrary to the previous ones, will it finally address the issues related to the everyday life of Israelis and to their future, ot will it be limited to another referendum “for or against Bibi” ? It already looks quite difficult. The threats against supports brought to Gideon Saar during  the Likud primaries he just lost are just a foretaste of what is going to happen during the next two months.

During the coming weeks we will also follow closely the “small” right and left parties’ negotiations in order to form bigger lists allowing them to pass the electoral threshhold. If one of the two left parties—the Avoda Gesher  list or the Meretz list—did not cross that minimum threshold, the right would surely be able to form the next government.

We will have the opportunity to discuss these issues further in our next newsletters.

For the first time in a long time, there is a credible alternative to the right, and an opportunity to put an end to the Netanyahu era. If this were to happen, it will still take a very long time to repair the damages he caused  first within the Israeli society he has divided, endangering the foundations of its democracy by challenging the legitimity and the independence of its police and of its judicial institutions, and also on the international scene, where the image of the country has severely deteriorated. We will remain committed to the Israeli civil society and to the numerous NGO’s fighting to promote a return to negotiations with Palestinians in order to end the occupation and to save the Two State solution.

It is still time to wish you and your loved ones a happy Hanoukka and a happy New Year. Hoping that this time, our yearly wishes to see Israel engage itself in a new direction will come true.

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