For the second time this year, Israel held national elections and for the second time this year, the results were pretty close to a tie. No side got a mandate, and who will form the government will take time to resolve. At the moment of writing this, it seems that Benny Gantz’ Blue and White party (centrist coalition) will either tie with Netanyahu’s Likud, or have one seat more. Netanyahu had hoped this election would bring him a clear mandate, but that did not occur. In that way, this is bad for Netanyahu, as any coalition he builds – if he can build one- will be weak.
One clear change is the increase in Arab voter turnout, so that the third largest party in the Knesset will be the Arab Joint List with 13 seats.
The key is for any party to form a coalition with 61 seats. Likud will not join with the Arab parties, and is already calling them “dangerous.” Lieberman’s Yisrael Beyteinu party has been clear it will only go into coalition with a National Unity Government. This means that neither side can for a majority coalition outside of a unity government.
I am very concerned about Netanyahu’s increasingly extremist comments about Arabs, annexation, and his use of fear-mongering to polarize Israelis, something we are also familiar with here in the US. This election is a set-back for that approach as it clearly did not ‘move the needle’ and did not get a mandate from the people.
Still, let us remember that Benny Gantz is no peacenik liberal, and that Labor received only six seats. Israelis vote primarily based on security, and it is clear that both Netanyahu and Gantz have the trust of much of the Israeli public on this front. Netanyahu has campaigned as a right-wing candidate who will give the most extreme segments of the right what they have been wanting. Gantz campaigned as a unifier, one who believes Israel’s unity matters as much as these other concerns. Yisrael Beyteinu’s Lieberman is focused on reducing the power of the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox, and so he is at great odds with the religious parties who together earned about 17 seats. In short, it is not at all clear who and how a coalition will be formed outside of a national unity government with Netanyahu and Gantz in coalition.
What does all this show us? That Israel is a vibrant democracy that is engaged in political debate, that Israelis of all sorts show up to vote, and that within Israeli society, there are great divisions in terms of how the country should move forward and what the country should be. That the third largest election winners are the Arab Joint List is clear testament that Israel is NOT an apartheid state, and that Arabs in Israel have more rights than most citizens have neighboring nations. Remember that since Hammas took over Gaza in 2006, election have not been held or allowed. Election have not been held in the West Bank since 2005.
This why I am utterly baffled and annoyed when people, including those in the BDS movement, suggest that instead of a two-state solution, there should be a single multi-cultural and multireligious democratic state in Israel and Palestine. There is zero evidence of such tolerant attitudes there, and zero evidence that there would ever be elections or that the results would be respected. There is no evidence that the Jewish minority in such a state would be protected, and much evidence and verbiage to the contrary. Indeed, such proposals seem to me to invite bloodshed and violence at a level that is far greater than the current conflict has ever witnessed. I don’t understand why people who say they want peace and tolerance would propose something that would lead to war, chaos, and possibly genocide.
So even with the disagreements many of us have with Israel’s leadership, let’s not lose sight of the fact that in an area not known for democracy, free speech, or peaceful debate, Israel – made up of people, Arab, Jewish, Druze, and other who have experienced great collective trauma and have great distrust of others – manages to be a vibrant, raucous democracy of all her citizens.