FOR the third time within the space of 12 months, Israel is heading to the polls.
Elections in April and September of 2019 saw two fiercely close contests between incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party Likud and the young Blue & White alliance fronted by former Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz.
Both elections ended with a political deadlock in the Knesset, with neither leader able to command the support of enough MKs to form a government.
On March 2, Israelis will cast their votes once again.
Redaction Politics spoke to Lior Sternfeld, Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Penn State University, about what the upcoming election means for Israel and its neighbours.
He said: “Israel has been running on the “Elections Year” mode for well over a year now.
“Netanyahu is the interim Prime Minister and his main objective now is to preserve this status and situation.
“There are no real relationships with neighbors to speak of. Relationship with Jordan and Egypt have been mostly around security issues and technical maintenance of borders control and such.
“There’s very minimal contact with the PA, and nobody’s expecting any breakthrough on that front. In fact, now both Netanyahu and Gantz vowed to annex the Jordan Valley.
“Hard to say how it’s going to play out with the regional allies.”
Benjamin Netanyahu has served as Prime Minister of Israel for more than a decade now, having led the country in both his current tenure and a stint in the top job back in the 90s.
Last year, he overtook the nation’s first leader David Ben-Gurion to become Israel’s longest serving PM.
Netanyahu and his right-wing party Likud have dominated Israeli politics for years now, yet recently his leadership has been threatened by investigations into alleged corruption.
He also faced a leadership challenge within his party from Gideon Sa’ar.
Sternfeld said: “Netanyahu’s problems never had anything to do with his own party.
“I don’t think anyone gave Sa’ar a real chance of defeating Netanyahu. In the past decade, Netanyahu shaped the Likud to be completely at his disposal.
“His position in the general public has been worsened a bit – I believe – since it’s obvious that this entire third round of elections was just about the immunity for Netanyahu.
“However, this is the only thing that differentiates between the Likud and Blue-White right now. Or at least the most important difference.”
In both of 2019’s elections, Netanyahu’s main challenger was Benny Gantz, leader of the newly formed Blue & White alliance.
While positioning itself as more centrist than Likud, Sternfeld says that a victory for Blue & White would represent little change for Israeli foreign policy.
Sternfeld added: “Gantz would resume the less-confrontational attitude, but in terms of actual policy, I don’t think that we can imagine him going to drastically different directions.
“With Gantz now saying that he would annex the Jordan Valley, and no clear policy regarding an establishment of a Palestinian State, there’s very little that can happen in terms of progress.
“I do expect the relations with the Palestinian citizens of Israel to improve since, despite some setbacks, Gantz and Odeh (the head of the Joint List) seem to have a good working relationship.”
He also reckons that current tensions with Iran will have little impact on this election.
He said: “Netanyahu has used this card several times by now, and those who against him will remain in opposition, and those who support him will continue to support him regardless of everything they hear.”
He adds that, if Netanyahu emerges victorious, there will likely be a continuation of current foreign policy and approaches to the peace process in Palestine.
“We’ll see a continuation of what we’re seeing. And everything can change after November 2020 and the US elections.
“If Trump wins reelection and Netanyahu forms the government again, we’re likely to see the aggressive confrontational approach continues with limiting human and civil rights in Israel, Palestine, and every other place (given the trends in the Middle East, Russia, and beyond).
“I think that we’ll see the continuation of property confiscation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, administrative arrests of those who oppose it, and biting into the relative autonomous Supreme Court, which allowed much of it to happen.”
Furthermore, he says that yet another post-election deadlock is still a possibility.
“I wouldn’t rule that out. I also think that Netanyahu still has the upper hand.”
Today, Netanyahu was seen applauding Mr Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan.
Mr Netanyahu said: “It’s a great plan for Israel, it’s a great plan for peace.
“Frankly, Mr. President, given all that you have already done for Israel, I’m not surprised.
“You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
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