Israeli parties submit election lists but no end seen to stalemate

Despite polls predicting 11 parliament seats for the Arab "Joint List", Palestinian citizens of Israel are not expecting a shift in Israeli politics towards their community, which they say will remain marginalised.
Saturday 03/08/2019
More of the same? Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L) attends the launch of the Democratic Union list, which he formed with newly elected Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz (R) and Stav Shaffir (C), Tel Aviv, July 25.  (AFP)
More of the same? Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L) attends the launch of the Democratic Union list, which he formed with newly elected Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz (R) and Stav Shaffir (C), Tel Aviv, July 25. (AFP)

LONDON - Israeli political parties submitted electoral lists for parliamentary elections but observers said it was unclear which coalition might be able to form a government considering the deadlock among Israel’s top politicians.

The August 1 deadline for submitting electoral lists passed with the two major alliances remaining more or less the same, raising questions on how another stalemate might be averted.

The latest poll predicted that the Likud party and the Blue and White alliance would secure 30 seats each. The winning alliance needs the backing of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset to form a government.

Israelis go to the polls September 17 after a vote April 9 failed to produce a clear winner. As in April, the two main rivals in the election are the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White alliance, led by former military chief Benny Gantz.

New alliances were formed on the right and left of Israel’s political spectrum. A new list made up of far-right right parties could decide to back Netanyahu’s bid for a fifth term in office but it was unknown whether its support would be enough for the prime minister.

One stumbling block in Netanyahu’s road to renewed leadership of the country is the staunch objection of right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman, a former ally of the prime minister.

“Despite new alliances on both the left and right, no one is able to form a majority coalition due to Lieberman’s stated opposition to join either a centre-left coalition or a right-wing coalition with Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox. That basically means he will support only a ‘unity’ government made up of Blue and White and Likud if Netanyahu is forced out,” Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Arab Weekly. 

“The other possibility is that Netanyahu forms a centrist coalition with Blue and White without Lieberman, perhaps under the pretext of responding to the Trump administration’s peace initiative.”

Netanyahu is not leaving matters to chance but the numbers aren’t on his side yet.

“At this stage, it is difficult to see how the Israeli political system can avoid repeating the deadlock of the last election but, of course, a lot can still change over the next month and one should never discount Netanyahu’s political acumen,” Lovatt said.

“Netanyahu’s answer is to expand the pool of right/far-right votes by ensuring that far-right parties such as Zehut and Otzma make it above the electoral threshold but, according to recent polling, even that still has the right-wing bloc falling short of a majority.”

Netanyahu’s opponents do not appear to be in a better position, either.

“On the centre-left, Ehud Barak’s re-entry into politics and the formation of a new Democratic Union list seem to only be shifting votes around within the centre-left bloc — rather than expanding it,” said Lovatt.

“The creation of the Joint List is important from the point of view of Palestinian political agency but it is not a game-changer for the centre-left and, in any case, Blue and White continue to oppose working with them.”

Despite polls predicting 11 seats for the Joint List, Palestinian citizens of Israel are not expecting a shift in Israeli politics towards their community, which they say will remain marginalised.

“It is clear that the Jewish Israeli community has no progressive voices on the political left to speak of and the political centre seems to be falling out,” Sam Bahour, Palestinian businessman and commentator, told The Arab Weekly via e-mail.

That does not mean that all Israelis are happy with their prime minister.

“The Israeli public is frustrated with Netanyahu and his never-ending overtures to the extreme right-wing of Israel, not to mention his corrupt style of governance,” said Bahour.

“Israel is left with two poles. On one side are multiple degrees of Israeli right-wing parties, on the other are the united Palestinian citizens of Israel. In this climate, all the Israeli right-wing will have a two-prong strategy: marginalise the Palestinian citizens of Israel while voting Netanyahu out of office.”

The United States has yet to fully unveil its Mideast peace plan, which was welcomed by Netanyahu and rejected by the Palestinians, who say the Trump administration is heavily biased in favour of Israel. An Israeli government without Netanyahu as prime minister is still likely to support the US plan.

Bahour said if pressed domestically, Netanyahu might turn to military action outside Israel.

“Netanyahu will not go down without a fight, which means all eyes should be on an Israeli military aggression on Gaza, yet again. Sadly, governance by fear is all that’s left for Israeli political parties,” he said.

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