In a class of his own

August 28, 2019 by Ron Weiser
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We are seeing a rerun of the April 2019 Israeli elections but with one big difference, this time round we will have a government formed.

Dr Ron Weiser

The question is, what government?

In the main, the issue in April was whether the people wanted to elect the statesman Prime Minister Netanyahu, or oust the flawed human being Bibi. And the people chose ‘the Statesman’.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s frenemy, whilst recommending only Netanyahu as Prime Minister to President Rivlin, then made an issue of the Haredim and army service, extending into a stand on religion and state – and that was that – no coalition – new elections.

There are a number of factors that we now need to watch:

– Will the people still vote for ‘the Statesman’, or has Netanyahu lost more of his lustre?

– Voter turnout. With voting in Israel voluntary, this will have serious bearing on the final result. Have Israelis developed voter fatigue or will they continue to turn out in high numbers?

– Which party – and there are only two immediate possibilities, either the Netanyahu led Likud (perhaps later, a Likud without Netanyahu), or the Gantz led Blue & White – will gain sufficient votes so that President Rivlin will offer them first bite at forming government?

– In the game to get the nod from Rivlin, which of the two major parties will suffer the most from voter drift within their nominal blocks. That is, votes moving from their own party to their ostensible future coalition partners from amongst the variety of smaller parties?

Whilst this will matter less once the process of trying to form a government is reached, it will matter greatly in the first instance vis a vis the options for President Rivlin.

Netanyahu seems more vulnerable here than Gantz, with Ayelet Shaked and her newly named Yamina party, openly attempting to chip away at Netanyahu’s base and with some success.

And Netanyahu attempting to do likewise to Yamina, with somewhat less success.

– This time the external forces that be, are not working in Netanyahu’s favour.

Hamas and the whole Gaza situation, as well as the escalation of terror in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria have been politically harmful to Netanyahu. Aside from his image as a statesman, he has cultivated a strong persona as ‘Mr Security’.

Hamas knows that Netanyahu does not want a war before the elections, if at all, and they’re using that to test Netanyahu’s restraint.

The deteriorating security situation has allowed every political party to Netanyahu’s left and right, to attack him as being weak on security and responsible for the apparent decrease in Israel’s deterrent abilities.

At the same time, the earlier rumoured visit of Putin to Israel, which would have been a boost to Netanyahu, did not happen.

And Trump did not put forward his peace plan which the Israeli right hoped might give public voice from the office of the President to autonomy for the Palestinians, rather than statehood. Although Trump is teasing that he still might release it before the elections.

– Whatever one thinks of the ban from visiting Israel on US Congress members and BDS supporters Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, Netanyahu was damned if he let them in and damned if he didn’t. But Netanyahu’s leadership prowess was somewhat dimmed by appearing to kowtow to Trump’s whim.

Trump’s tweet that: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit” put Netanyahu is a difficult position after Israel has seemingly already previously agreed to let them in.

Whilst it is dangerous to upset someone as temperamental and unpredictable as Trump (just look at Denmark and the ‘buy’ Greenland issue) and especially someone who has done so many positive things for Israel, it was a bad look for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s closeness to Trump may not be as strong a political benefit for him as in the past.

With the US President’s comment that: “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel”, Trump even more clearly demonstrated that he is using Israel as a wedge issue in the internal politics of the US.

Certainly Trump’s actions before the April elections were calculated to help Netanyahu win then. However, now whether planned or not, the steps seem more aimed at Trump’s own re-election campaign and US domestic politics.

And that apparent change in Trump’s priorities plays less well for Netanyahu in Israel and causes some possible concerns for Israel as well, in terms of US policy generally.

– With an eye on Lieberman, Netanyahu is trying to drag votes away from him by heavily courting the Russian vote. Netanyahu’s visit to the Ukraine should mainly be looked at through this prism. One of trying to attract the Russian vote in Israel.

If the polls are to be believed, it’s not working.

– In fact the only party, according to the polls, that has risen dramatically, is Lieberman’s. Which, again if the polls are correct, will make him the kingmaker as opposed to the kingslayer last time – in Game of Thrones terms – an entertainment series not far removed from the current machinations.

– Virtually all of the small party amalgamations are designed towards ensuring their own survival, to pass the threshold of votes required to enter the Knesset.

Whether it was the merging of the 3 Arab parties, or Meretz going with someone they really have/had distaste for in the form of Ehud Barak.

Likewise Labor deciding that it was electoral poison to merge with Meretz and to try and save itself from total oblivion, turned rightward in terms of foreign policy (whilst maintaining a more socially aware domestic agenda), by joining the yet to be electorally proven Orly Levy-Abekasis.

Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina is a merger between complex people with similar but differing polices in terms of emphasis and split on the matter of religion and state. It is doing alright in the polls, but remains a danger for the Likud in terms of potentially siphoning away votes as described earlier and leaving Blue & White as the election frontrunner.

– After the election and when it will come to coalition building, the real truth is that virtually almost any party can join any other party. No matter how many ‘red lines’ are declared before the election.

The ultimate expression of this is the very clear signal that Lieberman has sent in making an agreement on surplus vote sharing with Gantz’s Blue & White with two large implications.

1 – Assisting Blue & White to potentially win one additional seat in the Knesset – which may be critical when going to President Rivlin

And 2 – Sending a warning to Netanyahu that given the chance, Lieberman this time is able and possibly quite willing to give Gantz the nod, should Netanyahu not cave in to Lieberman’s demands

—–

At the end of the day, no-one should count Netanyahu out in what is probably his last election.

He is the most experienced person running and he is a master in the art of politics.

He has constantly proven pollsters wrong.

We are in a strange period. After the election whether Netanyahu is Prime Minister or not, either way, with hindsight, commentators will say that the result was obvious all along.

It’s just so easy for it to go either way.

After leading Israel for so long he is in a class of his own on so many levels and the rest of the pack are some way behind.

That is why the only person that can defeat Netanyahu in 3 weeks, is Bibi.

We will see.

Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, ZC of NSW

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