After his double defeat in the legislative elections, Benjamin Netanyahu is exploring all the possibilities to retain his decades-old doctrine in Israel. He even appealed to his nearest rival, Benny Gantz, to form a Unity Government, but the proposal was rejected. No party could get the majority number of 61 in the 120-member Knesset. The picture was almost the same when no party could prove majority after the first election held in April, and the nation again went to the polls on September 17. The new results witnessed a typical change in the voting pattern of the Arab Israeli who had almost boycotted the elections earlier — more than 50 per cent of the minority population had not used their voting right.
But this time, the Arab-Majority Joint List Party, with 13 seats, is being seen as a king maker. Netanyahu’s Likud party (31 seats) and his rival Blue and White party — headed by former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz (33 seats) — need to reach the figure of 61 to form a government. Hopefully, the parties won’t prefer to go to the polls thrice and will attempt a coalition. It is now clear that the Blue and White party will not form the Unity Government, which includes all the religious right-wing parties and would intend to form a broad Unity Government led by Gantz. The right-wingers were accused of bribery and corruption during the campaigns. The nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party — headed by Avigdor Liberman, a former defence minister — also holds eight seats, and would play a decisive role in government formation. But he has made it clear that it cannot join the government with the Arab-majority Joint List party: Hence, the Gantz leadership can ally either with the Arab List party having 13 seats or with Liberman’s party which has eight seats: The same Liberman had prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the April election because he refused to back down on a dispute with religious parties over exempting ultra-orthodox men from the military services.
Apart from this, Gantz can count on the support of Labour, which has six seats, and the Left-wing Democratic Union with five seats. In contrast, Netanyahu can count on the support of parties like Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina along with other ultra-orthodox right wing parties. This coalition might gather the support of 55 seats, but will remain shy of the majority. But it is not the first time when Israel has witnessed a deadlocked election. In 1984, the then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, from the Likud bloc, and the opposition leader, Shimon Peres from Labor Party, had formed the government of National Unity.
This election result is important for the rest of the world. The whole world was upset due to the illegal and aggressive policies imposed by Netanyahu cabinet. It had passed a new Settlement Bill which legalises Israeli settlement homes on private Palestine land in the West Bank. Around 120 formal settlements have been established on disputed territories. More importantly, Donald Trump seems to have been favourable to such acts of Israel. Before the April elections, Trump had formally recognised Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights which had created tensions in the west Asian region.
This controversial move by the US president was just a tactic to help Netanyahu retain power, which did not work. The US recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the shifting of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and many such incidents, have caused controversy over the last three years. All such moves are against UN resolutions. The controversial Jewish Nation-State Bill, 2018, which officially defines Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people, was termed as “Apartheid” by the international community including the EU and the Arab nations. Despite knowing the sensitivity of Golan Heights, West Bank and Jerusalem, Trump’s repeated steps to boost Israeli settlements in these disputed territories are against the spirit of UN resolutions. The US has always been protecting Israel in the UNSC: According to statistics from 1991 to 2011, the US used 15 out of 24 vetoes to protect Israel alone. Trump has enjoyed around 25 per cent of the Jewish vote in the last general
elections. Many of his key advisors are Jewish too. David Friedman, a staunch supporter of West Bank, was appointed the US Ambassador to Israel under the new US regime. Trump’s son in-law, Jared Kushner, is allegedly involved in projects of the settlements along the West Bank.
As far as a new Israeli regime is concerned, it will also work on the same idea of “one nation theory”. But the world community would definitely expect from Israel’s new prime minister that he puts all his efforts into maintaining peace on a decades-long crisis under the two nations theory. The world also expects that under the new leadership, Israel will not contravene the resolutions of the UN and EU.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 25, 2019 under the title “Upheaval in Israel”. The writer is JD(U) general secretary. Views expressed are personal.