Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
The second Israeli national election of 2019 has led to a lot of confusion. It has not resolved the question of who will fill the prime minister’s office on a permanent basis, nor has it cleared up the political logjam the country has been dealing with all year. Contrary to what many believe, the decision by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to give incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the first try at forming a governing majority coalition is not at all the same thing as Netanyahu having successfully held on to the job.
Here are a few key points to help untangle this mess. Read more at LobeLog
On Tuesday, Israel held its second national election this year. With most of the ballots counted, neither Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud coalition nor Benny Gantz’s Blue
and White grouping had enough support for their parties and their natural allies to form a new government. The absentee ballots and those of the active military are still due to be counted, so there might yet be some minor changes in the final tally, but it will not be enough to grant either of the largest parties a majority coalition.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has the job of deciding how to proceed. He can tap the leader of any party to try to form a majority or he can try to work out an arrangement for a government of national unity between Likud and Blue and White, among other options. What he will do remains a mystery, as there is no obvious and clear path to the next government.
The reason for the impasse is the same as it was back in April—Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Israel Beiteinu party. His refusal to join Netanyahu’s coalition in April, unless Netanyahu stepped down and allowed for a government of national unity, eventually led to this second round of elections, and his stance is not only unchanged, his party picked up four more Knesset seats, so his position is even stronger now.
So was it all for naught?
Not quite. While the next Israeli government is unlikely to materialize for some time, and when it does, its basic policies are unlikely to be very different than they have been for the past years—even if, as seems likely at the moment, Netanyahu is finally ousted—this election established some important facts that should not be overlooked. Here are a few of them. Read more at LobeLog
The staunchly militaristic Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) has proposed a mutual defense pact between the United States and Israel. JINSA frequently publishes papers and analyses around strategies that it would like to see pursued by the United States, Israel, or both, but this one is a little different. In this case, JINSA has enlisted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to help them sell the idea in both Israel and the United States.
Graham is a long-time member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of the most consistently outspoken hawks in the Senate, especially on the Middle East. His foreign policy voice is influential even when his party is in the minority, and it is particularly impactful now, because of his close relationship with President Donald Trump. Although Graham has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the mercurial president, in recent months he has largely remained in Trump’s good graces by duly fawning over him, and has gained access to Trump’s ear as a result.
Graham is also very connected in Israel, where his staunch support for every Israeli policy and action—the more draconian, the better—has made him many friends in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. All of this comes together to make Graham the perfect salesman for JINSA’s proposed agreement. And Graham seems like a very eager helper. Read more at LobeLog
A familiar face has introduced something new into the upcoming Israeli elections in September. Former prime minister Ehud Barak has formed a new party ahead of those elections and is working to unite the most left-wing Zionist parties behind him.
Barak characterized his new party as a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and for the moment, that’s what it is. But it is also an effort to unseat Avigdor Liberman from his position as kingmaker. Liberman has thrown the Israeli electoral system into disarray by essentially demanding that Likud, without Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz’s and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White coalition form a unity government. Read more at LobeLog
The Israeli elections are over, and the outcome largely matched the predictions. The Blue and White coalition amassed enough votes to match Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but only Likud has a path to assembling a governing coalition. Many pundits tried—and largely succeeded—to generate interest in an election that was a nearly foregone conclusion from the start, with only an unlikely combination of long shots offering a sliver of hope that the Benny Gantz-led center-right opposition to Likud could eke out a narrow victory.
This is familiar territory for Netanyahu, for he has faced races just as tight as this one several times in the past. In both 1996 (in a direct election for prime minister) and in 2015, it looked for a time like Netanyahu would not get the most votes. In 2009, he didn’t, but Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima party got the most seats, was unable to cobble together a governing coalition.
This time, Netanyahu may have ended up in a tie with Gantz at 35 seats each, but the right wing and religious parties emerged with a distinct majority. He’ll need to do some wheeling and dealing to appease every party he wants in the government, but it’s a trick he’s pulled off many times before. The new government will, once again, be the most right wing in Israel’s history. But this time, the length of the new government’s tenure will depend more on Netanyahu’s legal troubles than on the political dynamics of the coalition. Read more at LobeLog
With elections in Israel looming in six weeks, Israelis are watching Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is expected to announce his decision on whether he is
going to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Similar—and less serious—charges brought down Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, from the prime minister’s perch and landed him in jail. But Netanyahu’s situation is different, and he will likely continue to lead Likud into this election. Despite his legal troubles and his trailing in the polls, Netanyahu remains the favorite in this race because the math continues to work in his favor.
That’s why, earlier this week, the co-leader of the newly formed Blue and White coalition, Yair Lapid, announced that if his party won the election, its first call would be to the head of Likud, as long as it isn’t Netanyahu. If this new “coalition of the generals”—of its four leading candidates, three are former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces—does win a plurality of seats in the next Knesset, as it is currently on pace to do, it will not be able to form a government without Likud. Read more at LobeLog
Israeli elections always feature a lot of political drama. But when the Knesset was dissolved on December 24, it set off a flurry of action that was furious even by Israeli standards. The drama is likely to increase between now and election day on April 9 even though the winner is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.
Soon after the new elections were announced, political bombshells went off in parties on the right and in the center. It started with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolting their party, HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). Soon after, the head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, publicly humiliated former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, thereby eliminating the Zionist Union coalition his party had formed with Livni’s Hatnuah party.
From the point of view of all Israeli politicians—except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—this election is really about positioning for the next one. Netanyahu is going to win, but it’s very likely to be his final term as prime minister. A fight is now taking place over the succession, amid the ongoing collapse of the center and center-left of Israeli politics. Read more at LobeLog