Analysis

Israel Election Results: With One Stroke of the Pen, Netanyahu Writes Off Half a Million Israelis

The prime minister's 'enormous victory' has been revealed to be a defeat, and he has demonstrated a total loss of shame and statesmanship

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with his right-wing bloc in Jerusalem on March 4, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with his right-wing bloc in Jerusalem on March 4, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Gray as a burlap bag, frightened and anxious, light years away from the night of the “enormous victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood and scrawled his racism on the board for all to see. “58 seats for Zionist right, 47 for the Zionist left,” are, to his thinking, the election results and the basis on which a government should be formed.

With the sweep of a marker, the prime minister erased the 575,500 citizens who voted for the Joint List alliance of Arab parties (20,000 of whom, incidentally, were Jews) and put them beyond the pale, as if they were lepers. The extremist rabbi Meir Kahane is probably heaving a sigh of relief in his grave; a worthy successor has emerged.

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Bibi limps to election 'victory.' But he didn't winCredit: Haaretz Weekly Podcast

With his contemptible sketch of his convenient political arithmetic, the man who campaigned in Arab communities over the past few weeks offering reassurance and calling for “reconciliation” demonstrated cynicism and the total loss of shame and statesmanship. Only the “Zionists” count for him. Even Iran’s leaders never so blatantly excluded the Jewish citizens living there.

The election results, which are unlikely to change with virtually all the votes having been counted, promise continued political turmoil and paralysis. Neither Netanyahu nor Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz have a coalition. Gantz has a better chance of setting up a minority government, with the support of most of the Joint List and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu. The question is whether he will dare to try, and if his partners will go along. Getting the Knesset to ratify such a government would be the easy part; it will be far more difficult to maintain and manage it. In any case, that scenario seems fairly far-fetched at the moment.

The news broadcasts on Wednesday night went back to being dominated by the new coronavirus. Even if the panic and draconian measures are proportional, one can always count on Netanyahu to intensify things for his personal interests. During the tough political times he finds himself in, facing the possibility he’ll be forced out of the Balfour Street residence and made to stand trial as an ordinary lawmakers, his people have started to brief journalists on the catastrophe and apocalypse that have befallen us. A hundred thousand people in isolation, the collapse of the economy, the end of the world is already here, it’s only a cough away. The remedy? Clearly, an emergency government, and fast.

“A corona unity government,” Netanyahu's chief adivisor was quoted as saying by a journalist. We will hear more about this in the coming days. But rest assured, even if Israel had, God forbid, dozens of deaths and hundreds of sick people, if Netanyahu had won a majority we wouldn’t be hearing a word about the need for unity. It’s a sad joke. There’s no connection between the outbreak of the virus and the formation of a government, there’s only a connection to the cynical needs of Monday’s great victor, who discovered Wednesday that he’d actually lost. Again.

A lot of worries have piled up on Netanyahu’s desk in the 48 hours since the exit polls seemed to favor Likud and the right-wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc. A law that would ban a prime minister under indictment from continuing in office is percolating in the Knesset. In a smart move, Kahol Lavan’s plan is to have the law be effective only from the next Knesset. This will prevent it from possibly being struck down by a court challenge, while at the same time prevent Netanyahu from contending in yet another election, should there be one.

On the other hand, Gantz has problems, too. All of his options are bad. Kahol Lavan will presumably not be strengthened by a fourth election; it has exhausted its strength this time. Joining a unity government under Netanyahu would lead to the party breaking up and destroy it as an alternative ruling party for good. And a theoretical minority government wouldn’t be much of a good thing either. It would actually be deep trouble.

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