Exactly one month after its constitution, the 21st Knesset
has already disbanded on May 29, 2019. For the first time there is thus a
Knesset in the history of the state of Israel, which has not passed a single
law. In addition, Israel’s legislators with thirty days in office have set a
record for the shortest legislative term. On September 17, there will be
new elections. Thus, after the municipal elections last fall, the citizens of Israel
will be asked to vote for the third time in one year, which also is also a “first”.
The election result of April 9, actually, has been
quite clear. The center-right bloc around Benjamin Netanyahu had reached 65 out of
120 seats in the Israeli parliament. But because the five MKs of the
Russian-immigrant party “Israel Beiteinu” (“Israel our homeland”) refused their
support, Netanyahu was in the end not able to form a government.
Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of “Israel Beiteinu”, had
already in December 2018 provoked the Knesset’s dissolution. Now again
it was Lieberman who made it impossible to form a government capable of acting.
military service for ultra-Orthodox?
The official reason for the failure of the coalition
negotiations was a bill, that requires general conscription for ultra-orthodox
Jews. Nobody, however, really understands what Lieberman’s problem is. Details
of the compulsory military service for the ultra-Orthodox, who have until now
been exempted from military service, have driven the political system crazy for
years. And the army itself seems not sure if it even wants more ultra-orthodox
Observers and commentators from all directions agree: It is not the conscription for ultra-Orthodox what made this government formation fail. A few hours
after the decision for new elections, Ariyeh Der’i, head of the
Orthodox-Sephardic Shass party, revealed that the ultra-Orthodox had even offered
to support a minority government led by Netanyahu and Lieberman from the
outside, that is, without their own participation in government offices. But
even this offer Lieberman had refused.
How then may the stubbornness of Avigdor Lieberman be explained? What
is it all about? Is it
about power, personal revenge or even plain sadism? On
the fateful night of May 29 to 30, a few hours before the parliamentary
vote, Likud spokesman Jonathan Urich tweeted: “It’s not conscription and it’s not
‘principles.’ Lieberman wants to destroy Netanyahu. The rest is spin.”
enemies are happy
It is true in any case that the glee on the part of
the political enemies of Netanyahu is great. And now, with new elections within
reach, those who wanted to dethrone “King Bibi” for anything in the world have
licked blood again.
Netanyahu had already been convicted and as if the principle “in dubio pro reo”
had never existed, old muddlers were mobilized again. Finally, the “man without
honor,” who is “power drunk” and “stuck to the neck in crime,” was “beaten and
humiliated,” unmasked as a “loser”. Not only is it emphasized that “a corrupt
and long overdue right-wing government must finally find its end.” Netanyahu is
already imagined “on his political deathbed”.
extent the Netanyahu doomsayers are right this time remains to be seen. After
the 17th of September 2019 we will all be smarter. In any
case, it will be interesting which voters will punish whom for what. Or also
what effect a general election fatigue and voter disappointment will have.
Party quakes in Israel
Already in the early morning after the night of the
decision to dissolve the Knesset, it became clear that the party landscape of
Israel will reform again in the summer of 2019. It is clear to everyone that the
great fragmentation in the elections in early April lost many precious votes. That’s
why the very obvious slogan for everyone is “unity.”
Israel’s left has to think about how it can survive at
all. Initial polls immediately after the announcement of new elections
revealed that Israel’s Labor Party would disappear completely from the
Party leader Avi Gabbay had a few hours before the
dissolution of the 21st Knesset still pondered aloud whether to
answer Netanyahu’s job offers positively. After new elections in September
were announced, he continued to reflect on a possible cooperation with the
For many of his party comrades it is clear: “Gabbay’s
political career is over.” To them, the only question that remains is whether to unite
with the extreme leftwing-Zionist-Communist Meretz party or with “Kachol-Lavan”. What
is clear is that the traditional social democracy of Israel, which founded the
state more than 70 years ago and has controlled it for decades, continues
to decompose itself.
The Arabs of Israel have also understood that
fragmentation equals political suicide. Therefore Hadash, Ta’al and Balad rethink
the option of uniting the “Arab List”.
In addition, they should discuss possibilities of Jewish
coalition partners. This is not just the message of those Arab voters who either stayed home
on April 9 or voted for Zionist-Jewish parties. Simple logic dictates that. If at
all, the goal of disempowering “Bibi” can only be achieved together.
What applies to Israel’s Zionist left and its Arabs is
finally true for the rightwing Zionist spectrum of parties. No
matter whether national-religious or explicitly secular: The
last elections have caused two right-wing parties to fail just at the 3.25%
threshold, which meant a loss of thousands of votes. Especially interesting is where former
Minister of Justice Ayellet Shaked will position herself.
Within the Likud, it is agreed that there will be no
new primaries. Only the party closely linked to the Likud “Kulanu” under the leadership
of Moshe Kachlon will be proportionally included into the existing list.
But back to Lieberman. He promised his electorate to decide
who would become Prime Minister also after the next elections. The
question remains: Will he support Netanyahu or try to overthrow “King Bibi”?
Anyway, the poker face with the Russian accent has
understood what many in Israel, who would like to see an end to Netanyahu’s era,
have not yet grasped. Even though on May 25 there were 100,000 in Tel Aviv protesting
Netanyahu’s alleged corruption and his attempt to change Israel’s legal system
in his favor: That’s not what drives the majority in Israel.
Lieberman knows his country – and above all, he knows
his political foster-father and companion Benjamin Netanyahu. It is
not Israel’s left with its concern for democracy that may seriously endanger “Bibi”
but only one of his closest and longest-time companions. Therefore,
Netanyahu has also endeavored to stamp his potential coalition partner as “leftist”, an
effort that somehow does not want to succeed. Lieberman rightfully countered: “How
does a man from [wealthy] Caesarea dare to call a [settler] from Nokdim
leftist? … And who voted for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? Who
apologized to Erdoğan, the dictator? Who was against the death penalty for terrorists,
against the eviction of Khan El-Ahmar, against a tougher response to 700
rockets from Gaza – and at the same time allowed $ 30 million to be
sent to Hamas?”
relationship with Lieberman
By accusing Lieberman of being a “leftist,” Netanyahu admitted: His
main problem is his relationship with Avigdor Lieberman.
Cleverly, Lieberman has shifted his focus since
December 2018. As minister of defense, he had called for a tougher crackdown on Hamas
in the Gaza Strip – and thus provoked early elections. If he now turns the question of general
conscription into the reason for a failure to form a government, Lieberman refocuses
from the arch-enemy Hamas to the archrival of the secular Russian: the
of “Right-Left” “Religious-Secular”
Cunningly, Lieberman uses a different polarization of
Israeli society, not that between “right” and “left,” but the one between “religious”
and “secular.” All of a
sudden, it is no longer about rockets, giving away
land or the division of Jerusalem, but about the alternative: An
Israel where everyone may live their own way – or an Israel based on Jewish
law, which Lieberman calls a “Halachah State.”
As an actually secular Israeli, with great affection
for Israel’s Christian friends, Benjamin Netanyahu had even managed to hire a
messianic Jew as a social networking consultant. Surprisingly, there were no audible
protests against this from his power base in the orthodox society of Israel.
With regard to the Gaza Strip, a two-state solution,
the Jerusalem question, a “peace process” with the Palestinians, the society of
Israel is largely in agreement. By re-focusing the discussion on the divide between
the religious and the secular, Lieberman tries to revive an old strife and in
so doing re-polarize the society of the Jewish state. And that might actually be a serious
challenge for Netanyahu.
The next few weeks will show whether the fox from
Moldova has uncovered the political Achilles tendon of Netanyahu with this
defeat for Netanyahu
Another possibility, of course, remains that recent
developments are not a defeat for Netanyahu at all. After all, he remains in power as
long as no new government is formed. All attached problems, domestic as well as foreign
policy, remain in abeyance – and there are evil voices claiming that in many instances,
time is playing for Netanyahu.
Correct is: The left is disintegrating, Blue-and-White and the
Arabs are having profile problems and voters are becoming increasingly
apathetic. And then very big pessimists are already putting the possibility on the
wall that there might be another political stalemate in November and a third
time new elections could be necessary. Hardly anyone dares to dream what that would mean for Israel’s
democracy. In any case, the electoral enthusiasm of most Israelis already now tends