Could a fifth election in less than four years break the political deadlock in Israel? – OpEd – Eurasia Review

By Yossi Mekelberg*

The electoral campaign has been long since the collapse of the Israeli coalition government in June. By Israeli standards, it has been a relatively low-key campaign, though still toxic with the familiar personal attacks below the belt.

It may be difficult to generate much interest, let alone enthusiasm, in a fifth election in three and a half years, in which the main protagonists are almost the same and party manifestos have barely changed. .

Nevertheless, there is something different about this fifth time the Israelis are being asked to decide who should rule them – and it is not necessarily the expectation of a decisive outcome.

It is the first time in over a decade that Israel has experienced a government that is not led by the populist and divisive former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In less than a year and a half, the country has had two prime ministers. The first was right-winger Naftali Bennett, who has left the political arena for now, and the second was the more centrist Yair Lapid, who replaced him in June as part of the rotating leadership deal between both.

The government of “change”, as it has been called, has been far from blameless. But despite its nearly impossible composition – made up of a wide range of left and right Zionist parties plus, for good measure, a Palestinian-Israeli Islamist party – it nevertheless restored an element of calm and good governance after all the chaos and deliberate discord stitched together by the Netanyahu years.

The Israeli elections are probably the only ones in the world where as soon as the results of the exit polls are announced, politicians, commentators and many of those who, a few hours earlier, have voted, already take their calculators and start in what has become a national sport of forming a coalition government.

The night of November 1 will be no different and don’t hold your breath for an outcome that will clarify the identity of the next prime minister or the composition of the government. However, this does not mean that the Israeli electorate does not have a choice to make; it is and it is rather hard.

They can either vote for the parties that formed the outgoing coalition government, which was an inclusive government that, during its brief tenure, managed to push through a finance bill after years in which this crucial of governance was blocked and held to ransom by Netanyahu; a government that recently reached a landmark agreement with Lebanon on the two countries’ maritime boundary, which means they will share natural resources under the seabed; and a government that has shielded the justice system from right-wing attacks and has also improved relations with the international community.

Alternatively, voters can choose a throwback to the Netanyahu years and an administration that thrives on driving a wedge between segments of society, increasing tensions with even its closest allies, and whose primary goal, as before, will be to guarantee Netanyahu an indefinite hold on power and discredit the legitimacy of the justice system while seeking to undermine his ongoing corruption trial.

The main dividing line in Israeli politics is between two blocs: one that has vowed at all costs not to share power with Netanyahu until his corruption trial, on three counts of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, will continue in a court in Jerusalem, and those committed to Netanyahu, and no one else, and his bid to become prime minister again.

It is rather shocking, especially given the evidence presented during Netanyahu’s trial, that he is allowed to run for office while the trial is still ongoing. He is of course entitled, like any other citizen, to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but his hedonism and his moral bankruptcy leave no reasonable doubt.

To a large extent, Netanyahu’s time as prime minister can be divided into two periods, before and after the corruption allegations against him emerged in early 2017. Before that, he was a nationalist-populist who would not back down. ahead of next to nothing to win and stay in Power. But thereafter, his opportunism spun out of control in his attempts to destroy the justice system. First there were his unsuccessful attempts to end the police investigation into his activities, then his unsuccessful attempt to prevent his trial from taking place. To this end, he was also prepared to legitimize ultranationalist Kahanist elements in Israeli society, in the form of the Party of Religious Zionism led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

This party could become the main story and represents the most regressive political forces in Israeli politics. Ben-Gvir, who not so long ago was considered a political pariah, is now most repulsively acclaimed by the right, who would like to see him hold a key ministry in the next government.

Netanyahu and those who support him, including the ultra-Orthodox camp, all see the Supreme Court as a bastion of the left and a defender of progressive liberal democratic values ​​that they despise. They would like to drastically weaken this institution, not only to get Netanyahu, who is considering a possible prison sentence, off his legal hook, but to promote religious legislation that conforms to Jewish law.

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s election, don’t hold your breath for any change when it comes to the Palestinian issue – if it does, it will be more nuanced than drastic. Only the Arab parties and the left-wing Meretz party put a fair and just peace with the Palestinians at the top of their agendas. For the rest, the question became a distraction and certainly not a vote winner.

Whoever forms the next coalition government will continue to expand settlements, refuse to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the Palestinians, and view Israel’s long-term security as based on force rather than peace and reconciliation. And the right will pursue such a course with glee.

Yet this could still turn out to be a decisive general election for Israel. If Lapid and his allies were to retain power, the improvements, perhaps even in relations with the Palestinians, would continue, albeit gradually and in a less grand style.

Netanyahu’s return as prime minister would be more dangerous than ever for the country and the region, given his desperate need to avoid imprisonment, which would make him a prisoner of far-right elements in society. Israeli.

In the meantime, it is up to voters to think long and hard about what kind of country they would like to wake up to on November 2, because the power to unblock the impasse in their political system is in their hands.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is Professor of International Relations and Associate Fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He regularly collaborates with the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg
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