by Sam Alston
Having called an election, Prime Minister Netanyahu won a renewed mandate with an Israeli parliament (Knesset) that hewed to the right to the extent of being xenophobic. 20 seats out of the 120 seat went to centre parties lacking historic roots, clear ideology or a commitment to peace process. This describes both the result of the Israeli election of March 2015, and the Israeli election of 2013.
The 2013 Election
The election of 2013 followed what was seen in Israel as a successful and popular assault on Gaza. The Labour opposition was weak and divided, lacking in an alternative security narrative. The Yesh Atid centre party was taking Labour’s dividend from social protests, but was focused on tackling the ultra-orthodox. The Arab and communists parties fought voter apathy and each other… The results below were not as the dramatic endorsement the prime minister may have prayed for.
The Jewish Home party presenting a racist and xenophobic vision of Israel that made the rest of the right look almost moderate was sure to join with the Prime Minister. However he also had to reach a partnership with Yesh Atid and Livni’s Hatnuah to reach a majority. They forced him to drop the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties arguably Likud natural partners. The government was an unwieldy left-right coalition who worked to undermine the peace negations Livni was leading.
In late 2014, the electoral threshold had been increased to get the Arab parties thrown out of Knesset. Netenanhyu, was experiencing high approval rating while support for Yesh Atid, Livni and Labour was weak. The Prime Minister ended the government and called elections over budget disputes and the Jewish Nation State Bill, reasonably hoping to form a right wing majority with the orthodox parties. These articles explain some of the disputes.
Those of you who managed to follow the bitter and personal campaign will have seen headlines post-Election Day headlines about Netenanhyu trumpet. As you can see below he won a much increased number of seats and the president will ask him to form the next coalition government. You can see the particularly eloquent reaction here.
|Party||Sea in last Knesset||Party Leader||Vote 2015||Seats 2015|
|Zionist Union**||2||Issac Herzog, Tzipi Livni||18.67%||24|
|Joint List***||11||Ayman Odeh||10.54%||13|
|Yesh Atid||19||Yair Lapid||8.81%||11|
|The Jewish Home||12||Naftali Bennett||6.74%||8|
|Yisrael Beiteinu*||13||Avigdor Lieberman||5.11%||6|
|United Torah Judaism||7||Yaakov Litzam||5.03%||6|
|Threshold||No Knesset representation below threshold||3.25%|
|Others (13 parties)||0||4.62%||0|
*Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ran in 2009 as one list securing 31 seats. They spilt before the election.
** Zionist Union is a partnership between TIzpi Livni and the Labour party
***Joint List an alliance between Arab parties who ran separately previously.
Building a Government
However, as this very fun Haartz coalition builder tool helps illustrate, due to the weakening of the right wing parties, Jewish Home and Beitenu. Netenanhyu needs all the right parties, the ultra-orthodox and one of the centerish parites, Kuluna or Atid to form a coalition. He is in short facing a situation not much different to what he faced in the previous parliament only now the centre party he has to deal with is Kuluna.
Jewish Home and the Ultra-orthdox are ideologically opposed and Shas in the last election made some leftish noises. Yesh Atid leader Lapid at the beginning of the election campaign highlighted his hostility to Netenanhyu and unlikely to join a government he joins. Kulanu are uncomfortable with ultra-orthdox and the leaders of Benteninu and Kulunu are personally on poor terms with the Prime Minister.
An extreme right government the most likely result of this dealing but it will be unstable and cobbled together.
Those Who Will Not Be Joining the Coalition
Mertz, tradition home of the Israeli left, has seen a decline in their vote brought about by their own failings. The Zionist Union a coalition of Livni and Labour though offered a campaign that at times seemed to be trying to outflank Likud on issues of occupation, where it lacked a narrative presented a challenge that no party, even claiming to be of the left has done in a decade. Growing economic weakness of Israeli and its increasing international isolation might provide fertile ground to undermine the government
Most excitingly, in response to the higher electoral threshold the Joint List was formed of the Arab and communist parties. It became the third largest party and although it refuses to join the government it now has a platform to present an alternative narrative on the occupation and minority rights particularly if some are suggesting Zionist Union and Likud join in a majority government. The very existence of a Joint List is likely to mean the left needs their votes to form any future government potentially making radical policy on the occupation and social challenges more likely.
This was not the endorsement of the racist, apartheid supporting, neo-liberal supporting Israeli the initial reaction may have led you to believe. The right has barely increased its share of the vote and the ultra-orthodox bloc actually shrunk.
How Should We Respond?
Some may argue that the time has come to give up on Israel to sanction it, ostracise it. That we should be focusing on undermining the oppressor, helping the oppressed to overthrow them.
I still believe that they are wrong. This bitter conflict will end in bloodshed and tragedy, or it will end with the Israeli minorities, oppressed groups and establishment liberals negotiating solutions, joining with Palestinians to claim their rights. These elections have not made that impossible. The prime minister almost fell, a couple of percentage change in the voting and the Zionist Union would be joint largest party. These elections still mattered in determine the fate of the country, over 70% turned out to vote, including 67% of eligible Palestinians a group that every social-economic factor suggests should be unlikely to vote. If the Joint list can prove these votes were not wasted maybe there is a chance of the formation of a government willing to tackle the potentially fatal problems confronting both Israel and Palestine.
We need to continue to support Palestinian voices and show solidarity. We also need to engage with Israeli and social causes within it and maybe some of this engagement includes corporate boycotts. This election was a blow for people who want a non- violent peace. It was probably not a mortal blow.