By Observer Research Foundation-By Mansheetal Singh*
In about two weeks’ time, Israelis will head to polling stations for the third time in less than a year in an effort to break Israel’s political deadlock. The main contenders would once again be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who leads the ruling party Likud, and in opposition heading the Blue and White party, is the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. The previous general elections involved several offers and negotiations to form a unity government but both the leaders could not come in terms to a ‘power-sharing’ arrangement. As a result of the failure of the politicians to form a coalition in the parliament, Israel will have yet another general election on March 2nd. However, it won’t be surprising to expect the third elections to meet the same fate as of its previous versions.
One of the major obstacles in furthering negotiations was the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over corruption charges. The Prime Minister has denied any misconduct and retorted the accusations as an “attempted coup”. According to Benny Gantz, Netanyahu will have to promise giving up any parliamentary immunity from prosecution as a precondition for further talks. But the deliberations were halted due to inconclusive decision as to who would serve as the Prime Minister of Israel. Furthermore, Netanyahu insisted that his ultra-Orthodox parties be included if a union of the two party is to be formed, which was rejected by Gantz. The centrist Blue and White party leaders also refused to serve under a Prime Minister facing any criminal charges which brought the entire negotiation process to a dead end. The third most important political leader of the Blue and White party, Moshe Ya’alon reaffirmed in a meeting, “We will not sit in a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, unless a court acquits him of the serious charges against him. We will continue to strive for unity and do everything possible to avoid further elections, but we won’t stay from our values and our commitments to our voters.”
The Israelis, on the other hand, have been wary of the political turmoil created by an unprecedented third election in a row. The only way to get rid of the political stalemate is, if Benny Gantz accepts Netanyahu as his Prime Minister, despite his corruption charges, or if Netanyahu steps aside and let the Benny Gantz form the government with Likud party. The main question arising is if the two leaders will be able to come to a middle ground and form a stable government. However, they have been adopting different strategies to woo its citizens.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been raising concerns about electing Gantz to a position where the national security and interests may be in a jeopardy. Due to Gantz association with the Joint’s List, an alliance of major Arab political parties, have spurred speculation of his incapability in future to annex the Jordan Valley or launch a military operation in the Gaza Strip. Because of the looming pressure of losing votes from Zionists in the country, his party decided to terminate any arrangement of involving the Arab parties to form a government. The Blue and White Party therefore recently admitted that “this is a weakness which makes it harder to woo rightist voters,” and that’s why they have been making attempts at disassociating themselves from the Joint List. Reiterating his party’s opinion, Gantz said “The Joint List can’t be part of the government I will form. My disagreements with its leadership on national and security matters alone are deep, harsh and irreconcilable.” The rejection to form a government with the Joint List party, which won as many as 13 seats in the second elections, has left the Israeli elections even more deadlocked than the last ones.
“The Deal of the Century”
With elections weeks away, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that his partnership with Trump will remind Israelis of his robust statesmanship that brought the historic ‘deal of the century’ into effect. While it may or may not bring a positive change to his voter base, it certainly could hurt his far-right supporters. This may happen because the deal calls for a ‘Palestinian state,’ which imposes a four-year freeze on settlement construction and allows the Palestinians to establish their capital in an eastern portion of Jerusalem. Several Zionist supporters of Netanyahu also criticize the ‘plan’ for using the term ‘annexation’ of the 30% occupied area of West Bank. For them, that land already belongs to Israel and this might cost him some votes. Netanyahu’s biggest trick to introduce a peace plan has mostly discouraged his base and left the Arabs galvanized.
All in all, the peace plan was introduced with a mutual support of Netanyahu and Gantz, which does not lead to any defection amongst the voters. Hence, the plan does not lead to any significant change to Israel’s political scenario.
Normalizing relations between Israel and Sudan
The Israeli Prime Minister is believed to be a ‘magician’ of Israeli politics who is known for pulling rabbits out of his hat at an intense pace. In another attempt to increase his voters’ base, he met with Sudan’s Sovereign Council Chairman Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in a secret meeting in Uganda to establish formal diplomatic relations. The meeting between the two leaders in Entebbe was denoted as a major breakthrough, where Netanyahu claimed to have made “history,” while others touted as a political stunt. Sudan was one of the leading countries in the 1948 war of independence and since then, it maintained staunch enmity to the state of Israel.
He believed the ‘breakthrough’ will set forth his image as the éminence grise of the state and will help in mobilizing more supporters to his side of the court. Though it was perceived as ‘just a meeting’ which did not follow up to any establishment of full diplomatic ties with Sudan, it was still a result of converging circumstances. Unfortunately, Netanyahu was unable to use this development as a propaganda to win the voter’s confidence. Hence, his political tactic did not favor his candidature as the next potential leader of the state.
The Unresolved Future with Frazzled Voters.
Theoretically, Israel’s third election might face the same destiny of the last two ballots held in September and April with more drama and too close to call. In practice, the upcoming election campaign is comatose, and the voters are exhausted with the over-riding consensus of ‘enough is enough.’
Owing to the murky history of elections in Israel, the Israelis have lost faith in the process and are tired of showing up for casting their vote, now that the polling is happening for the third time. A few Israelis chose to not even participate in the elections altogether. Stating that the elections will only lead to another deadlock, they asserted that voting will turn out to be a waste of time. Additionally, there is no holiday on the day of election which means they will have to take time out of their routine schedule to go out and cast their vote. Several political leaders have also toned down their campaigning due to the added expenses.
The recent polls indicate that a Minority government with an association of Blue and White, Joint’s List and Yisrael Beiteinu could be the only closest call possible in establishing a government and breaking a deadlock, but Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, has refused of any coalition like this. An association of this kind could complicate the security operations, and bringing the Trump’s peace plan into effect. This kind of minority government is usually fragile and can only be the last resort. However, people are still inclined towards a Unity government with Blue and White and Likud in the center power, which is unlikely to happen. Even the Central Elections Committee (CEC) has set the date for the fourth general elections on September 8. They believe that the political stalemate will remain even after the 3rd consecutive elections. The very actions of CEC prove the redundancy of the upcoming elections.
*The author is a Research Intern in ORF Delhi
Observer Research Foundation
ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.