The decision to hold this election was disgraceful and should have been avoided. Indeed, one of the big questions that could be critical for the outcome are the voters who are fed up with our dysfunctional politics and will simply not bother casting their ballots.
Yet ironically, there is a possibility that the outcome could achieve stability and the new government to be formed may even reflect a national consensus.
Although recent opinion polls have proven to be utterly misleading, it would seem that Likud combined with the haredi and right-wing groups but without Yisrael Beytenu will again fail to win sufficient seats to obtain the majority required to form a right-wing government. As nothing Likud could offer would satisfy Avigdor Lieberman’s primary personal goal of politically destroying Benjamin Netanyahu, a repeated deadlock seems inevitable.
Yet, any suggestion of holding a third election is not an option. Besides, the fact is that, apart from supporters of the Joint Arab List and the haredim, most Israelis will vote holding their noses.
Likud supporters will be voting for a government that would include an eccentric like Moshe Feiglin and would support the legalization of marijuana.
Yamina, formerly the New Right, is headed by able and charismatic Ayelet Shaked but will have as one of its leading personalities the coarse, loud-mouthed Bezalel Smotrich, whose views radically contrast with those of religious Zionism’s founders, moderates like Haim-Moshe Shapira and Yosef Burg.
Those traditionally supporting Labor Zionist parties are forced to choose between Amir Peretz’s Labor-Gesher party and the Democratic Union, a merger of Meretz with failed former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.
Blue and White supporters have two issues to contend with. Many shudder at the prospect of Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid – often referred to as “flapping gums” – becoming prime minister after a rotation of two years with Benny Gantz, unless, as is likely, the partnership is abruptly terminated after the elections.
The other concern is the lackluster pre-election performance of Gantz himself, who is devoid of charisma, contradicts himself, and seems to be a monotonously “nice guy” but hardly the leader Israel requires. This is highlighted with comparisons to Netanyahu who – despite a viciously hostile press, major diplomatic and military challenges, constant legal pressures, and an impending election – remains as cool as a cucumber.
Aside from the extent to which the powers of the Supreme Court to override government decisions are to be limited, there are no major political differences between Likud and Blue and White.
Setting aside the right and left extremes in both parties, there is a consensus that:
- Both major parties have identical security objectives.
- Both agree that an independent Palestinian state at this time would mean creating a terrorist state on our borders that Iran could employ as a launching pad to destroy us.
- There are various streams in both parties regarding applying Israeli law to settlements and, if the US does not resist, possibly annexing and applying sovereignty to Area C. This will come to a turning point after the elections when the Trump peace plan is finally revealed.
- Both parties oppose dividing Jerusalem or ceding further territories unless a final settlement is reached.
- Both agree that in the context of the status quo, all efforts should be made to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in the hope that they will ultimately have leaders willing to peacefully coexist.
In actuality, there are only two issues motivating voters.
The principal issue is “Bibi fatigue.” Those who have it argue that after 13 years, Netanyahu has outlived his political life and it is time for change so he should go. Ten years is usually regarded as the optimal political life of a democratic leader.
The secondary factor is the chance for a government in which the haredim are denied the opportunity to exert even more power and intensify their narrow interests with the Chief Rabbinate imposing even more stringent interpretations of Halachah. Lieberman’s anti-haredi incitement has successfully touched a responsive chord and led to an apparent substantial increase of voters to his party.
But what will happen after the elections when no juggling of political musical chairs with the smaller parties enables a government to be formed?
There is a possibility that, despite all the obstacles facing him, Netanyahu may still lead Likud to achieve a majority. Aside from last-minute electoral gimmicks, which Bibi has often successfully pulled off, many who despise him, when in the ballot box, may think twice before supporting an inarticulate novice to head their government in these troubled times. Even those who detest Netanyahu cannot deny that, whatever his personal weaknesses, he stands out today as a world-class leader enjoying excellent relations with US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders and now forging diplomatic channels with Arab former adversaries now inching closer to open relations with Israel.
In the context of what we face, it would surely be counterproductive to divest ourselves of him at this time when existential threats challenge us and agreements with the Americans and Russians could either have good or disastrous implications for us in the long term.
If Netanyahu is unable to form a right-wing government, he may make a generous offer to Gantz, possibly resulting in a split with Lapid, who would become leader of the opposition.
A national unity government would then be achieved, to the satisfaction of most Israelis. The haredim could remain within the government but they would no longer hold the balance of power and thus would not be in a position to veto government initiatives.
Even if politically victorious, Netanyahu will still face legal charges, but allowing for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, which has not been the case with the scurrilous media campaign against him, the court may face a tough and lengthy battle to convict him.
In the alternative scenario should Likud not top the polls, there will be pressure from all sides, including his own party, for Netanyahu to step down and for a national unity government, with or without the haredim, to be formed, headed in rotation by Gantz and a new Likud leader.
Although this election is somewhat like a lottery, voters should try to set aside their personal feelings and, even if it means holding their noses, support the party whose leader they feel will be best equipped to head our nation over the crucial year facing us. Our choice could have existential repercussions on the nation.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom