The Israeli society is split into two after the third round of polls closed on March 2, 2020.
The 2020 election, which made history with the highest-ever — 71% — turnout, was also a turning point when the Israeli right, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declared victory based on exit polls, without waiting for the outcome.
The Israeli left, on the one hand, has not given up hope of inconclusive results, but on the other hand, has begun to list the excuses for defeat.
The only front that has not talked about any other option but to form a government has been the ranks of Netanyahu and Likud, in an environment where everyone has taken positions according to every outcome.
Power gathering in the right bloc
The power split in the Israeli right before the April 2019 elections caused serious crises. Israeli and world public opinion said: “I wonder if Netanyahu is leaving this time.”
The developments that made us question and discuss with what formula this could be, were undoubtedly due to the constant manipulation by the Israeli government of the fragile processes which the Jewish and Arab communities went through.
From the personal rhetoric of Netanyahu to the accusations of corruption and bribery he faces and the crisis his son Yair Netanyahu has unleashed on social media, we have observed that many populist rhetorics have caused deep cracks in society and even in the Israeli right.
Netanyahu had two main priorities in both elections held in April and September 2019. First of all, founding the government no matter what, and secondly, gathering the political partners who could enact an immunity law for him as far as possible in this coalition. Notable developments like making foreign policy the material of domestic politics, efforts to convince Israel Our Home Party under the leadership of Avigdor Liberman, who participated in his former governments, with small racist parties, hardly entrance of him into Knesset in September 2019 while important names like Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who flagged Netanyahu after Liberman, could not pass the barrage in April 2019 caused the failure of the right bloc in forming a coalition on its own. The issue with Iran, which is on the foreign policy agenda before the April elections, and the negative rhetoric directed at Turkey by Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz clearly did not affect the perception of the voters in a positive way.
Although the Israeli electorate may adopt the hawkish stance that a right-wing government has taken on an outside issue during its tenure, it has sought to keep the focus on itself in the last three early elections. What is important to Israeli society is not that the current government aims at society in a way that distorts a stable situation during the election process, it is the aggressive attitude of an outside element towards Israel or its policies that support it. In this concept, the golden key to Netanyahu’s rescue has been the so-called peace plan of Donald Trump. With ambitions to invade the West Bank under the plan, Netanyahu effectively used this foreign support to create a center of attraction in the right-wing bloc. Of course, the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the occupation of the Golan Heights, and in the recent elections, the impact of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s joint so-called peace plan on the electoral process are enormous.
When we look at the post-election polls and the post-election publications of the Israeli press, we can safely say that Likud’s combative pro-occupation policies have triggered the shift of non-religious right, far-right and center-right voters to Likud. So much so that Otzma Yehudit (Jewish power), the representative of the occupying West Bank community whose name is frequently mentioned in the 2019 elections, is in the shadow of Netanyahu and is unable to overcome the electoral threshold. Even this example shows that Likud has a vacuum effect on the right bloc.
While Likud is expected to send 37 members of parliament to the Knesset, all right-wing parties, except Israel Our Home Party (Yisrael Beiteinu), will most certainly support Netanyahu as prime minister.
Power Losing Campaign
The Israeli left has been fragmented for years and has resisted with alliances against the right. This left-wing opposition has found hope in a Blue-White Bloc that has emerged with Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a year of up-and-coming Israeli political life, perhaps not for the past decade.
The Blue-White, which has a momentum that allows it to compete against Likud head to head, put up a good performance as a party during the elections held in both April 2019 and September 2019, but just like there is no opportunity to form a coalition in the left bloc, it could not take place in the possible national memorandum government scenario as a result of the pressure by Netanyahu.
Blue-White, which has locked out a strong left opposition and the right bloc until this point in the past year, has come under heavy criticism for its “copycat” attitude toward international developments facing Israel, let alone its political campaign style ahead of the third elections.
For example, reactions on social media were raining against the Blue-White because of using Likud’s method of finding an “external enemy” against the election competition before April and September elections.
Two weeks before the election, Gantz’s insinuation that only he would stop Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a video shared via his Twitter account was criticized by many Israeli voters. Another notable example was Gantz’s remarks on Trump’s so-called peace plan that no one was hurt.
When it was obvious that Netanyahu was going to turn this move into a show of strength, he was neither able to stand against the plan with the concern of votes nor could he accept it completely.
English-Hebrew posters and video images were used during the campaign, although Gantz played for secular Jews and new immigrants in the coastal area, he was unable to provide an alternative to the Hebrew-dominated campaigns. As a result of the polls, Labor leader Amir Peretz became the first leader to criticize Gantz’s campaign and attitude, and proved once again that “defeat is always derelict”.
While Gantz may favor the left voters from different parties for being the strongest alternative to Netanyahu, the Israeli left has a restricted voter band compared to the right. The Jewish left parties, which had a total of 11 deputies as a result of the gravitational force created by Blue-White, fell to a band of 6-7 deputies this time. In this case, the Meretz-Labor Party-Gesher electoral alliance will only suffice for these three parties to be represented under the roof of the Knesset.
United Arab List, which is another stable and independent element of the Israeli opposition and the third-largest party in the Knesset, did not disrupt the United List with the leadership of Ayman Odeh like in September 2019 elections by not repeating its mistake in April 2019 elections.
It is also seen from exit polls that the Arab electorate has a large chance of going to the polls, as voters set a turnout record this time around. The United List, which is trying to keep its own number of deputies at the highest level in order to reduce the power of the Israeli right, is certain to increase its representation in the Knesset of 14-15 deputies by one or two more. Another gain by the Arab opposition in the election results is that if it has the right to send 15 deputies to the Knesset, it will move Palestinian deputy candidate Iman Khatib, who wears a headscarf, into the parliamentary ranks.
With the Likud of the New Right, United Torah Judaism and Shas Party supporting the formation of a government under Netanyahu’s Prime Ministry — with the exception of the MP Avigdor Liberman, who is likely to pull out in a 6-8 band by disrupting the Netanyahu government in 2018 and causing Israel to run for successive elections — the total number of surrogates is expected to remain in a 59-60 band.
Although Netanyahu has not achieved the full minimum of 61 deputies required to form a government, it is a fact that; Israeli society is less likely to accept a fourth election than the United Arab List is likely to be included in any government.
For this reason, Liberman’s persuasion by giving him a highly critical seat, such as the Defense Ministry or the State Department, or the realization of political transfers from Israel Our Home Party or the Blue-White Bloc will also be one of the solution plans that will be kept on the table by Netanyahu.
It should be noted that the government, which is likely to be established in the Netanyahu Prime Ministry, will carry out its first acts in line with Trump’s so-called peace plan. In this respect, we should not ignore the fact that a possible election victory by the Israeli right would trigger a series of crises that would deeply shake the entire society.