A total of
eleven of the original 43 parties have made it to the Knesset. In addition to
the two major parties, the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu (36 seats) and the
new party “Kachol-Lavan” (Blue-White) under Benny Gantz (35 seats), there are the
following parties in the 21st Knesset of the State of Israel: the Sephardic-ultra-orthodox
Shas party (8); the Ashkenazi-ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism (7); the Arab
parties “Hadash-Ta’al” (6) and “Balad-United Arab List” (4); the
social-democratic Labor party (6); “Israel Beiteinu” under Avigdor Lieberman
(5), backed mainly by Russian new immigrants; the Rightist Union (5); “Kulanu”
(All of Us) under former Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon (4); and finally the leftist
“Meretz” party (4).
the Ultra-Orthodox, Kulanu, the Rightist Union and Israel Beiteinu gained 65
out of 120 seats. Sixty future members of the Knesset have already from the
outset committed themselves to Netanyahu’s coalition. Immediately after the
elections the only question remained which price the former Defense Minister
Avigdor Lieberman would ask for himself and his four party comrades for joining
the coalition. From the outset little room remained for maneuvers and
reminder: When Netanyahu had forbidden Lieberman at the end of 2018 a harsher
military action against Hamas, this led to early elections. Now Lieberman may be
asking for the Ministry of Defense, as well as for a commitment to have a free
hand against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
a grand coalition of Likud (36) and Kachol-Lavan (35) might be on the horizons
have been harshly rejected by the Kachol-Lavan leadership.
Referendum on the person of Netanyahu
It is clear
that Netanyahu was able to secure a fifth term. His opponents have done
everything to disable him. Now they complain: Whenever it seemed that Netanyahu
was losing momentum, be it by rocket attacks from Gaza, criminal charges or
suspicion of corruption, he always succeeded in regaining the initiative. And
then, of course, at the right time, he was always supported from abroad, be it
from Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or even Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
these elections were a referendum on the person of Benjamin Netanyahu and his
policies. And the Israeli people have expressed their will quite clearly. 366,049
votes or almost nine percent of all votes went to parties that did not manage
the 3.25% barrier – i.e., they were lost. Voter turnout in Israeli Arab society
has been lower than ever.
The big loser is Israel’s left
and his partners never tire of emphasizing the achievement of stomping a new
party out of nowhere and becoming the second largest force in the Israeli
parliament right from the start. Seen from a distance this sounds impressive.
inspection and especially with some knowledge of history, the success of
Kachol-Lavan, however, rather looks like total failure. First of all, it is
relatively easy in Israel’s political party system and society to found a new
party for new elections, above all if there is a slogan that unites significant
parts of the electorate. In this way, for example, Ariel Sharon succeeded to
retreat from the Gaza strip in 2005 with backing of his newly founded party “Kadima”
– which is not existent any more.
Kachol-Lavan set out with the explicit objective to dismantle Netanyahu. But Netanyahu
was not at all dismantled, rather has now caught up with David Ben-Gurion’s
record. Like Israel’s legendary founding figure, Netanyahu was elected prime minister
five times. In July, he will most likely pass Ben-Gurion’s time as prime
minister in office.
It is true Kachol
Lavan was able to gather one million Israelis. However, instead of harming Netanyahu,
the new party dismantled Israel’s traditional center-left parties. Kachol-Lavan
may have won one or the other vote from Netanyahu. In fact, the Likud has lost
two mandates compared to the previous legislature. Crucially, however, the new
party of the generals Gantz, Ashkenazi and Ya’alon, along with their media star
Lapid, “cannibalized” the Labor Party and the communist Meretz.
left-liberal HaAretz daily prophesies Kachol-Lavan great difficulties in terms
of inner cohesion as a functional opposition and pessimistically predicts
concerning their members of Knesset: “Don’t be surprised if some of them find
their way into Netanyahu’s coalition before long.”
120 members of the new Knesset, there are 48 newcomers. Almost half of them
belong to Kachol-Lavan. There is, for example, the 37-year-old Gadeer Mreeh,
the first Druze woman in the history of Israel, who was elected to the Knesset.
But also the 40-year-old Omer Yankelevich, the second ultra-orthodox woman who
has ever worked in Israel’s legislature. Being a professional lawyer,
Yankelevich is mother of five children and has made a name for herself as a
social activist. On the one hand, she is a vociferous advocate for women’s
rights. At the same time, however, she is very much in favor of gender
segregation as demanded by her ultra-orthodox community.
Another of the
“new faces” is Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Arab Hadash party. In
1987 he was one of the first Jewish soldiers to refuse service in the occupied territories.
Once he described then-Justice Minister Shaked as “neo-Nazi scum.” The number
of openly gay members of Knesset increased from two to five, or by 150 percent.
Zionists might notice the most that Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick is no
longer present in the 21st Knesset. Glick was widowed last year and
can now devote much time to his new marriage.
loser on election night in April 2019 was definitely the Labor Party. The
Social Democrats lost two-thirds of their seats, the left-wing bloc as a whole about
half of its seats in the Knesset. Labor and its predecessor that had founded and
dominated the state of Israel for decades, was thus almost wiped out from the
party landscape of Israel because their constituents flocked around
Kachol-Lavan to disempower Netanyahu. Likewise, many traditional Meretz voters chose
Kachol-Lavan this time.
Social Democrats are supposedly considering merging with Meretz and possibly some
Arab parties. As soon as such considerations became known, however, the Arab
communists (Hadash) loudly excluded any cooperation with “hypocritical” Meretz.
see Israel’s liberal Zionism in an existential crisis. The last Social Democrat
as head of government, Ehud Barak, left office 18 years ago. Hardly anybody
remembers him favorably. Nowhere on the horizon is there even the slightest
chance for any Social Democrat to replace Netanyahu. Meretz only survived
because it sparked the SOS signal “Save Meretz from sinking” to the public at
the very last minute.
Right” of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayellet Shaked
failed to pass the 3.25% barrier. It lacked only 1,462 votes. Interesting now
are rumors of voices within the Likud calling on Netanyahu to offer a post to Shaked
in his new government. Even within the Likud, Shaked is considered “popular and
Netanyahu, Israelis have voted for continuity and stability. Israel’s former ambassador
to the US, Michael Oren, sums it up: “Our economy is excellent, our foreign
relations were never better, and we’re secure… we know him, the world knows him
– even our enemies know him”.
As soon as
Netanyahu has been commissioned by President Reuven Rivlin, he will have 28
days to form a new government. Should he request the statutory extension of the
deadline, the government would have to stand no later than June 5. The
dream of a two-state solution with Israel making drastic concessions to the
Palestinians has moved with these elections farther into the distance than ever
before in this millennium.