After the election

April 2, 2021 by J-Wire News Service
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC’s) latest webinar on “Israel has voted: What now?”, featured Israeli author and columnist, Shmuel Rosner widely published in Israel and internationally, and is an analyst for Israel’s public broadcaster Kan News.

Shmuel Rosner

The period following an Israeli election is often as confusing and complicated as the election itself, as is the case currently.

Rosner began by warning he wouldn’t be able to answer what would happen next – just give possibilities and maybe probabilities. It will be weeks before a new government is formed, and “the weeks between election day and the forming of a new government are the weeks in which you can least believe any politician” as it’s mostly smoke screens and manipulations.

There are three main possibilities – a coalition with Netanyahu or without Netanyahu or a fifth election, which Rosner says is the most likely. The Likud would want any fifth election as soon as possible, around August or September, while others would want it later because if there is still an interim government under the current coalition agreement, Benny Gantz is due to take over as prime minister in October.

This election saw 13 parties achieve the 3.25% threshold required to gain Knesset seats, more than in previous elections. Rosner attributes this to factions splitting. Likud, easily the largest with 30 seats, and its main rival Yesh Atid, which has 17 and has vowed never to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, have the same problem – there is no bloc of 61 seats willing to support any one coalition.

Netanyahu said Rosner, can count on 52 seats, and adding Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party gives him 59, so he can try to lure another party or individuals. The main one being discussed as a possibility is the Islamist Arab party Ra’am, which said it will negotiate with either side. However, Rosner said it would be strange to have Ra’am as part of a right-wing coalition it could bring down. Netanyahu’s other option is to try to attract defectors from other parties.

Rosner sees the other option for a government as a broad complicated coalition, whose main message is “anybody but Bibi”, built around three pillars – Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Bennett’s Yamina. They could either get the Arab parties to join or alternatively, join with the ultra-Orthodox parties in a coalition that excludes the Arab parties, the left-wing Meretz and the secularist Yisrael Beiteinu. Rosner believes the second is the more likely alternative.

Next week, President Reuven Rivlin will consult with all the party leaders and then decide who to first give the chance of forming a government. Rosner added that there are rumours that, unlike in the past, he will only give one chance and, if that fails, send it back to the Knesset to work out.

Rosner said it’s important to note that a clear majority voted for right-wing parties – this election was not a fight between right and left, but those supporting Netanyahu and those against him. It was personal, not ideological. He added that “the basic features of ideology in Israel, namely, the Israeli /Palestinian conflict, Israel and Iran, Israel in the Middle East, Israel-US relations, economic issues, all these matters are not under great debate in Israel.”

Had the election been two months earlier, before Israel was getting out of the pandemic, Rosner said, Netanyahu would have done far worse. However, now, with people getting vaccinated in huge numbers, anyone other than Netanyahu in this position would have won easily. He is receiving a lot of credit for achieving so many vaccines so quickly and “he clearly deserves credit for it.”

Rosner said that in the last four elections over two years, the situation of the Arab parties as players in Israeli politics has changed dramatically, so now they are regarded as legitimate partners, with even the right-wing parties discussing partnering with them.

He added that he wouldn’t be surprised “to discover that a hundred years from now, historians will look at this period as the watershed moment in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. It might not be that important which party ultimately wins this election, you know, whether we have four or five rounds before we get to a conclusion, but the way Arab parties and Arab leaders are getting into the political game and becoming a part of it is dramatic. It’s highly surprising. It’s positive on many levels and… this is an important, not just political, but also social development that could alter the relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.”

Asked if the Israeli political system was broken, he replied that it is not broken, but stuck, like a sock clogging a water pipe, and in this case, the sock is Netanyahu. If he was removed from the picture, forming a coalition “would be the easiest task in the history of Israeli politics.” The Government is still functioning, so he wouldn’t panic at the prospect of four or five more months of an interim government.

The presence of Jewish extremists in the Knesset and potentially government is,  he said, not good for Israel’s image, and would be used against it by its enemies, but would be unlikely to influence government policy except at the margins.

The Knesset could pass a law that no-one under indictment could be prime minister, thus disqualifying Netanyahu, but, he said, this can’t be done retroactively, so there would need to be another election for it to take effect, Netanyahu would try legal manoeuvres to get around it, and he doubts there would be majority support in the Knesset for such legislation.

Asked if the politicians from the Arab parties are anti-Zionist, he said it’s tricky to define. In general, they’re not Zionists, but that doesn’t necessarily make them anti-Zionist. The same could be said about some from the far left and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Ra’am reminds him of the ultra-Orthodox parties because they represent a highly conservative, religious sector of their communities. It has broken from its past though because it is now looking to gain concrete benefits for its constituents in exchange for its votes in the Knesset. The new tendency of the Arab parties to look at the interests of their own voters rather than the Palestinians and other foreigners is an important development. Most Arab citizens, he said, are proud to be Israeli.

Asked if Israeli society is divided, he said it is psychologically, but not ideologically, but that Israelis have difficulty recognising they basically agree on most issues. He added, “You ask, why do we have so many parties – because we have nothing else to talk about other than who’s going to be prime minister because we agree on everything else.”

Asked whether Netanyahu could be unseated as Likud leader, he said it is unlikely because Netanyahu is a very shrewd politician and good at surviving, and has made sure no one is in a position to threaten him. Also, no Likud leader has ever been removed by his colleagues.

He believes Israel-Diaspora relations would be far more affected by COVID preventing visits to Israel than by the election, saying their attachment to Israel is too deep to make Diaspora Jews dislike Israel due to the political situation.

Finally, asked about Israelis’ morale, he said it depends on who you ask. Those involved in politics are frustrated, but overall life is not that bad, the economic situation isn’t terrible, and the vaccines are allowing a return to the old life. Israel came 11th or 12th on the recently released World Happiness Index which, he said, is “good enough for me.”


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