Israel elections 2019 (Again.)

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By Aubrey Katzef

For the very first time in Israel’s 71 year history an election result was so inconclusive that a re-run has to happen. 

In the April election right wing and religious parties received a clear majority of 65 to 55 for the centre party, left wing parties and Arab parties. However, Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Lieberman declined to join the governing coalition unless their demands concerning Haredi conscription into the army were met. Prime-minister Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu refused to give in to Lieberman. He was therefore unable to muster by one vote the required number of members of the Knesset to form as government. Clearly Lieberman by virtue of his five seats in the Knesset had become the kingmaker and thus Netanyahu had no alternative but to call another election in the hope of obtaining a mandate without Lieberman.

Lieberman has said that he will no longer sit in a cabinet with only right-wing and religious parties. He wants a unity government between right-wing parties and the Blue and White centre party. The Haredi parties will have to be excluded. This creates a no-win situation in that the Blue and White party will not sit in a government with Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Likud at this time are fully behind their leader so they won’t sit in a coalition with Blue and White.

Will this election be a repeat of the April one? According to the polls Yisrael Beiteinu are expected to increase their seats from 5 to 10 or 11 seats. This is a huge swing. At the last election 174 000 voters backed them. Will their anti-Haredi and anti-Bibi policies attract 174 000 voters from other parties and where will they come from? I would like to suggest that they are not going to come from the right-wing. The right wing parties have voters who are over the years have shown extreme loyalty to the right.  To do so may mean a centre-left government. 

Many of the voters who voted for the centre and left wing parties may be attracted to Liebermans anti-Haredi stance but that will not change the current position. Lets look at what may.

Although only a few months have passed between the elections there has been some major changes to the political landscape. Firstly Moshe Kahlan has merged his Kulanu party which was centre-right into Likud. Kahlon is very popular in Israel for having broken up the cell phone cartels which led to a huge reduction in the fees charged by cell phone companies but the question to be asked is will the 152 000 voters who supported him follow him to Likud.

The New Right who did not qualify for the last Knesset having failed by a few thousand votes to cross the minimum threshold have merged with the United Right Party which will be led by the popular Ayelet Shahar who was Minister of Justice in the last government. Their 138 000 votes were wasted and now would be considered as a right wing gain. On the other hand Otzma Yehudit, a far-right party, are running on their own and are unlikely to cross the minimum threshold. The same applies to Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party whose policies he describes as right-wing libertarian and whose platform included the decriminalisation of cannabis. How many right wing votes will be lost by these two parties not finding a home in other right wing parties?

On the left there has also been considerable realignment. Ehud Barak, a former Prime-Minister of Israel has emerged from retirement and formed a new party, the Israel Democratic Party. This has now merged with Meretz who were in danger of not crossing the minimum threshold (they squeezed in by 16 000 votes in April). Politics makes strange bedfellows, Meretz on the extreme left whose policies are to create a Palestine State as soon as possible with social values completely different to Barak who is a multi-millionaire and living a glitzy life running together seems quite bizarre. The new party is called the Democratic Union. Also on the left, Labour once again headed by Amir Perez has merged with Orly Levy-Abecasis’ Gesher Party. Abecasis knowing that she would not cross the threashold did not run in the last election.

The Arab parties who ran in 2013 as a joint list, then separated for the April election are again running as a joint list. Shas and United Torah Judaism are expected to retain the same number of seats as in the April election. The polls, which have never been correct in predicting recent elections in Israel are giving Likud a slight lead over Blue and White. More importantly neither the right-religious block nor the centre and left block are predicted to obtain a majority. They are predicting that Yisrael Beiteinu with 10-11 seats will again be the kingmaker.

Netanyahu must be hoping that if Likud will hold on to half of the voters who voted for Moshe Kahlon and that the United Right Parties will increase their seats by the nearly four that were lost in the April election he will get the 61 seats he needs to form a government. Even if he gets the opportunity to do so, it will come at a price. The right-wing and religious parties will make heavy demands in respect of policies and cabinet positions.

By a way of a warning. As in the last two elections, it was events that occurred just before that decided the ultimate winner. This may well happen again.

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