Top Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari: Election prognosis could be “prescription for a long term depression”

March 19, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Eminent Israeli journalist and pundit Ehud Yaari gave his uniquely well-informed commentary on the forthcoming Israeli election during an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar this week.

Ya’ari Ehud

“Trying to offer a prognosis for the elections next week is a prescription for a long term depression,” he said, because there is no stable coalition in sight.

Following the disintegration of the Israeli Left, the Right has also fragmented, with Likud no longer being the only important party on the Right.

It is theoretically possible, he said, for a coalition to cross the traditional line between Left and Right. However, no bloc has the hope of a clear majority, so both will be exposed to extortion by smaller players, such as demands for government ministries or Budget allocations.

Again, this election is “all about Bibi”, and can be very emotional. Many Israelis see Netanyahu as a “demon”, who is leading Israel to a far-Right populist regime, and giving in to the religious Right, Yaari said.

Others, however, see him as the only one who can do the job properly, and polls show most Israelis don’t believe other contenders Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett or Yair Lapid are capable of being the Prime Minister and coping with Israel’s challenges.

Yaari said Netanyahu now has momentum because of his success with COVID vaccinations, with five million already vaccinated and infection numbers dropping. People attribute this to Bibi alone, as he worked hard and was obsessive about obtaining vaccines.

He is also gaining credit for the Abraham Accords agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, and takes the credit for the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure strategy on Iran.

Yaari also noted that Netanyahu’s corruption trial doesn’t start until April, and he is not letting anyone else in his party have any limelight, making it seem he is “the only player in town.”

Netanyahu’s supposed main opponent, Yair Lapid of the Centre-Left Yesh Atid party, refuses to say he wants to be PM, and is afraid that if he gets too many votes, some of the smaller Left-wing parties will fall below the threshold to obtain Knesset seats, Yaari explained. It is, said Yaari, the first time he has ever seen a political leader trying to minimise his own vote.

Yaari listed three important questions that may decide the result. The first is how many Israelis vote, which could decide between 15 and 26 of the 120 seats. Higher numbers will help Netanyahu and hurt the smaller parties, but Yaari detects apathy.

The second, how many voters change their mind at the last minute as has happened in the past, could determine 15 to 20 seats.

The third question is the outcomes for the four lists in danger of missing the electoral threshold of 3.25% – if they miss the threshold their votes are essentially wasted.

Yaari also pointed out that a very recent poll showed 87% of Israeli Arabs want their representatives to participate in a coalition rather than “occupy the backbench and scream about the Palestinian cause.” The Arab parties, he said, are all ex-communists or extreme nationalists, who therefore don’t reflect their community, but now there is a real chance they will be integrated into the Government, including ministries, and the wider civil service.

Netanyahu has worked hard in the sector to attract votes, and may gain two seat’s worth of Arab votes, Yaari predicted.

While Lapid worries about Gantz and the left-wing Meretz in danger of falling below the threshold, Labor Leader Merav Michaeli is trying to revive her own party, and is therefore campaigning hard against these other left-leaning parties.

Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina looks like achieving ten seats, and Bennett is not committed to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu bloc, Yaari noted. He will want a price for joining either coalition, such as being prime minister in a rotation, but won’t join a coalition with an Arab party.

Gideon Sa’ar, who left Likud to form his New Hope party, is now looking at ten seats or less, having lost half of his initial support. He was hoping to poll well and then attract defectors from Likud. Avigdor Lieberman is running a campaign centred on incitement against the ultra-Orthodox, Yaari said.

A possible scenario is that no party can assemble a coalition of 61 seats, so Netanyahu remains head of an interim transition government, and then goes to another election before November, when he is scheduled to hand over to Gantz under the agreement signed after last year’s election –  assuming Gantz stays in the Knesset.

Yaari said that his “reading today is that Bibi’s closer to forming a government than any other constellation. The momentum, as we speak, is on his side.”

However, he said, the question is whether, if elected, Netanyahu tries to have his trial postponed and pass legislation weakening the independence of the  courts and the civil service, leading Israel away from the liberal tradition of an independent civil service.


Asked about the coming Palestinian elections, Yaari said a major issue is that Mahmoud Abbas intends to allow Hamas to run and potentially re-enter the Government without first renouncing its extremist agenda. Hamas, therefore, will resume its efforts to re-establish terror networks in the West Bank. Fatah is disintegrating, with candidates for President including jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who would beat Abbas in a fair election, and Yasser Arafat’s nephew and former Palestinian Authority foreign minister Nasser al-Qidwa, while Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan has a solid base among Fatah members in Gaza. Yaari warned that these splits in Fatah will likely benefit Hamas.

Iran’s presidential election, Yaari said, will have very little impact on the broader issues. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which now has the power in Iran, will decide who wins, and will most likely install one of its own.

He also expects Iran to continue to step up its military pressure through its proxies, including the Houthis in Yemen, noting that missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia, including on oil facilities and air bases, have led to half the population of one southern province leaving.

On the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, the policy voiced by US Secretary of State Tony Blinken is that there will be no concessions to Iran on sanctions until Iran complies with the deal, there should be a longer and stronger agreement, and the US is in no hurry if Iran isn’t. The US wants to re-enter the deal but is conveying the message that it will not do so at any cost.

Yaari said it is very important that the US keeps its troops in north-east Syria, which it looks like doing, and he hopes the Administration implements its promise to keep the Abraham Accords going and expanding, as there are two to four more agreements “there for the picking” if the Americans put their minds to it.

Yaari also said that he sees no future for Lebanon, which is now completely bankrupt, and corrupt, and can’t form a government, with 70% of the population below the poverty line. The only possible hope is if the Lebanese army is convinced to join somehow with the country’s Christian Patriarch, who is campaigning for Hezbollah to be disarmed and banned from intervening in Syria, and for an international conference to impose an undeclared mandate over Lebanon.

Asked about Israeli morale in the face of recent political, medical and strategic problems, he responded that Israelis are accustomed to living in a rough neighbourhood. He said people are generally in a good position economically, with a strong recovery predicted, the technology sector is thriving, they are proud of the success of the vaccination program, and there is a feeling that if they can just get rid of Netanyahu, it will be a safe, sane and respectable place.


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