By James Moules
AFTER three general elections within the space of 12 months, Israel’s political future is still in the throes of uncertainty.
Despite an increase in his Likud party’s seats, Benjamin Netanyahu – who has held the premiership since 2009 – is now fighting for his political life amid corruption allegations.
His main rival Benny Gantz has now been granted the mandate to form a government following a vote of recommendations in the Knesset.
If he succeeds, it could bring an end to Netanyahu’s decade long rule.
But a senior member of the Joint List – the coalition of Arab parties currently backing Gantz – told this publication that the incoming leader will need to listen to Palestinian concerns.
Redaction Politics spoke to Lior Sternfeld, Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Penn State University, who estimated that Gantz could be in for third time luck at forming a government.
He said: “I give him a 75 per cent chance to succeed. He has 61 recommendations so far. With two from his own party that can flip any moment.
“I think that one strategy that all the 61 would agree on, would be to swear in a new government, make sure that Netanyahu is out, passing two bills that would prevent him from running again, and then go on the fourth cycle of elections.”
For Gantz to succeed, he will need the support of a broad range of politicians across the spectrum of Israeli politics.
This could require Avigdor Lieberman of the secular right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu – and a former ally of Mr Netanyahu – to suspend hostilities with the Joint List of Arab Israeli parties.
Sternfeld said: “I believe that they will work together to the extent of making sure Netanyahu is out and stop there. I will be very happy to be wrong on that assessment.
“I don’t think that Lieberman will work with Netanyahu unless he gets something huge in return.”
Gantz would also require the backing of the Israeli left.
The main left of centre parties – Labor, Gesher and Meretz – ran together in the most recent elections.
Together they scored a mere seven of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
“If they are able to form a coalition I assume they’ll hold some of the secondary ministries. It may well be the last time that either of them gets any say in a coalition-building for the next generation.”
Failing a broad coalition, an alternative might remain open for Gantz – a ‘unity’ government with Likud.
This option was considered following the September elections, but government formation talks ended in stalemate and the calling of the third election.
“This will be the most convenient for Gantz, for sure,” Sternfeld said, “but the goal first is to get Netanyahu out.”
The shadow of the coronavirus pandemic also hangs over these government formation talks.
“There are calls now to form a national-emergency-unity government. I think that it’s a cheap political trick. But Gantz may take the bait just to avoid another elections.”
Sternfeld added that he expects a fourth round of elections to be on the table soon, regardless of the outcome of the coalition talks.
A parliamentary deadlock could ensue once again, and once again, Israel could head to the polls.
“I guess that now this chance exists, and I think that anyway, we’re likely to see another elections before the end of 2021.”
Redaction Politics also spoke to MK Yousef Jabareen, senior member of the Joint List, who said that the alliance is ready for fresh elections.
He said: “In principle, we are ready for a new round of election and expect to increase out power.
“We would like to see Netanyahu out of his office, but not at any price.
“Any political cooperation with Gantz needs to be based on his positive response for the two main questions we raise: advancing equality for the Arab minority in Israel and advancing peace in the region based on recognising the right of Palestinians to self-determination.”
Sternfeld added that under Gantz, a peace deal with the Palestinians could be more likely than under Netanyahu.
He said it would be “more likely, but I don’t expect anything dramatic, certainly before we know who’s the winner of the 2020 elections in the US.”
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