The people of Israel went to the polls and it appears likely that while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’ Likud Party and his chief rival Benny Gantz of the Blue White Party may gain the same number of seats (35) in the new Parliament. It appears to be much more likely that Bibi will be able to cobble together the 61+ seats that he will need to govern than will Gantz. A new Netanyahu Government, however, will be under a cloud of possible Netanyahu indictments which will challenge the viability of the coalition. Israel could well be headed to new elections within the next year.
The election results, however, do suggest some other very interesting possible trends—considering that the Israeli electorate is a very volatile one—as to where the Israeli body politic is headed.
- Extreme right-wing parties which broke away from Bibi and his coalition did not even obtain enough votes to place the top four on its list in the next Knesset. While the final votes will not be known until late on Thursday, including some of the soldiers votes which tend to be right wing, the New Right Party is unlikely to be represented in the Knesset. The voters appear to have rejected Naphtali Bennet, Ayelet Shaked, and Caroline Glick who had broken with Likud.
- Israeli Arab turnout dropped off significantly after the individual Arab parties opted to run separately and not as a unit. Instead of moving forward as a potentially more potent voting bloc, the Israel Arabs opted to go back to anonymity. This correctable disarray—with good internal leadership—could present a very interesting political force in Israel’s future.
- In the 2016 American election there is no clear public evidence that Russia had interfered in the U.S. elections. In these Israeli elections, President Trump was explicit in his support of Israel and specifically in his good friend Netanyahu. It actually appeared that Washington was falling all over itself to promote the most right-wing actions that Netanyahu could have imagined. Much of this was done by Trump to satisfy their mutual friend and financial backer Sheldon Adelson, as well as Trump and Israel’s strong Evangelical Christian supporters.
- Benny Gantz and his entourage entered politics only months ago and proved that Netanyahu’s was beatable. Basically, three former high-ranking generals created enough of a stir in the anti-Netanyahu camp that they almost pulled off a miracle.
- The mother party of Israel, the Labor Party, while maintaining seats in the Knesset, appears to be operating on life support.
- The religious Zionist community did not have a distinct party in this election which forced it followers to opt for other more diverse and less parochial parties. This trend could be very important and constructive for Israeli society as well as for the religious Zionists.
- Russian immigrants who were once considered to be monolithic and hardline right-wingers, are now experiencing the traditional model of political integration which follows social integration. As had the Sephardic Jews, so too will the Russian and Ethiopian Jews continue to assimilate into the larger political camps.
- Both the ultra-Orthodox, haredi, parties did extremely well. Together they will now hold 16 seats or 13% of the seats in the Knesset. This is a community whose political power is only increasing.
- The final unknown will be the Trump peace plan, if and when it emerges. How it will be received throughout the region and whether this election will moderate the extreme policy directions which Netanyahu suggested at the end of the campaign remains to be seen.
Netanyahu’s political resiliency is truly remarkable; but his long-term political viability is very much an open question. Without him, Likud and the right-wing bloc may well factionalize. In fact, one of the possible outcomes, if the opposition can stick together—not an easy matter in Israel—is that this election could be Likud and the hard right’s swan song.