It is possible that after the fifth election in three years, Israel will finally have a more or less stable government. But it is unlikely to reduce the deep divisions in Israeli society over many crucial issues, from the conflict with the Palestinians to relations between religion and state, according to Ksenia Svetlova, senior fellow at the Herzliya Institute for Strategy and Policy Studies.
Three days after the November 1 parliamentary elections in Israel, the vote counting process has come to a close. Former prime minister and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who is facing three criminal charges, has overcome a long period of imbalance between political blocs: the Likud party that he leads, the extreme right-wing Religious Zionism party and the two parties that represent the ultra-Orthodox sector received phenomenal support. His opponents in the center-left camp suffered a major fiasco.
For the first time in three years, Israel has had a choice: the Netanyahu camp won 64 mandates out of 120. At first glance, this would seem to allow Netanyahu, the most experienced Israeli politician, to form a solid government for the next four years, before the next elections. A closer look, however, will show that this is not entirely true.
In spite of the large differences in the number of seats won, it is clear that almost equal numbers of Israeli citizens voted for the center-left Bloc and for the Netanyahu Bloc. The latter received more mandates because it was able to integrate several parties into a single entity, while in the Bloc for Change one party, the center-left Meretz, failed to pass the electoral threshold, and the other, Our House Israel, was left without an agreement on the distribution of the remainder.
There is another nuance: in theory, the “bloc of change” includes Arab parties. In practice, it is not easy to form a coalition with them, because of the serious ideological differences. The outgoing government, headed in turn by Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, relied on the Arab RAAM party, and for a whole year the opposition, led by Netanyahu, accused them of forming a government with “terrorists”. It may well be that after the fifth election in three years, Israel will finally have a more or less stable government. But it is unlikely to reduce the deepest divisions in Israeli society, both on the question of leadership – “Netanyahu or not Netanyahu” – and on many ideological lines, from the conflict with the Palestinians to relations of religion and state.
Captive to Radicals
In the right-wing religious camp in Israel, they are celebrating a victory, but every Israeli child knows that it is too soon to rejoice until all the coalition agreements have been signed.
This time there are on the political scene what many Israelis call extremists and fascists: Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former terrorist convict, his associate, Betsalel Smutrich, a former organizer of the anti-LGBT “Cattle Parade”, and Avi Maoz, another “fan” of the LGBT community, who has also called for the shooting of Palestinians who throw stones. With Netanyahu’s help, they formed the Religious Zionism alliance and won 14 seats in parliament, winning almost 700,000 votes. On the one hand, this party, which openly advocates segregation between Jews and Arabs, is ready to help Netanyahu with his main problem: changing the judicial system and either freezing or canceling the lawsuit against the former and future prime minister. But what might be the fee for such help?
“Religious Zionism,” in addition to a number of key ministerial portfolios, demands the removal of any restrictions on Israeli settlement development in the West Bank and the passage of laws restricting LGBT rights. Even before the election, it was clear that the tail, in general, was turning the dog, and that these partners would not become tame.
Netanyahu could get rid of this problem by turning to other parties, from the “bloc of change,” but his credibility has declined sharply in recent years. Several parties have already announced that they will not form a coalition with the Likud leader.
In full view of the world.
Netanyahu, who knows a great deal about international affairs, knows that if he grants the radical right important ministerial posts, annexes the West Bank or at least a part of it (such as the Jordan Valley), and expands the building of settlements, the price of these actions will be too high. The White House is already hinting that it plans to boycott extremist ministers, and any move to expand the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, where the al-Aqsa Mosque is located, would entail a sharp chill in relations with Arab countries.
In 2020, the “Abrahamic Accords” to normalize Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain were concluded precisely on the condition of abandoning the annexation of the Jordan Valley. Saudi Arabia will not move toward rapprochement with Israel without moving toward a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. And the EU will undoubtedly respond to the annexation of the West Bank with sanctions and reduced cooperation. Given that the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and the U.S. depends on military aid, it is almost impossible to imagine such a scenario.
Regardless of the composition of the coalition, Netanyahu will have to prove to Israel’s Western partners that he follows the Western countries’ common line on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, especially given that the Israeli leader used to be proud of his close friendship with Vladimir Putin and used a photo with him in his 2019 election campaign.
All these complications impose many limitations on Netanyahu: the world in 2022 does not look like the one he is used to. Democratic President Joe Biden is in power in the United States; Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, who once said of Netanyahu that he and he were close as an “engaged couple,” has just lost an election; Europe is supplying weapons to Ukraine and is surprised that Israel refrains from doing so. A comfortable coalition of like-minded people could turn out to be a death trap, and any other options could bring an imminent courtroom denouement closer. After another election, some Israelis rejoice and others mourn, and none of them are willing to compromise, just as they did three years ago when the country began its endless voting season.
Editorial opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of the author