A Fifth Israeli Election, and Then the Big Bang

Israel Harel
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Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid at the Knesset in 2014
Israel Harel

The essence of the “ideology” of the recent rounds of elections is “Anyone but Bibi” or “Only Bibi” (and also “Bibi in retrospect,” connected to his linkup with Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avi Maoz, who are way to the right of Likud on a number of sensitive issues). The atmosphere now indicates a certain change in direction: With the exception of the voters for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who follow him whether he has zig-zagged to the left or to the right, like a flock of sheep after the bellwether, the rest of the political parties are now more committed to keeping their promises to their voters than they were in the previous rounds.

The result: As long as Netanyahu heads Likud, it is not possible to form a government – any government – in Israel. It’s a pity, then, that so much is being invested, on the right and on the left, in trying to establish a stable government. Even if some sort of artificial entity does arise, it will collapse within a short time, generating disappointment and despair.

It ain't over yet for Bibi, and we may meet here again. LISTEN to Election Overdose podcast

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Even if Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid does change his mind and enables Yamina head Naftali Bennett to put together a government (or if Lapid himself puts it together and allows Bennett to have the first turn at being prime minister in a rotation), without cooperating with the Arab-majority Joint List, there is not the slightest possibility of establishing, even temporarily, a government of reconciliation and rehabilitation. True, now that Netanyahu has made kosher the Islamist United Arab List headed by Mansour Abbas, the Joint List can also be admitted to decent company. The question remains: Would such a government be able to act in the most elementary of areas?

For example – and this isn’t a hypothetical at all: Hamas, encouraged by the fact that the existence of a government in Israel is dependent on an Arab party, renews the attacks on the south of the country. The inhabitants’ outcry rises to the heavens and the Israeli army, which has to act, causes losses among the Gazans. On that very same day, presumably, the Joint List would be obligated to quit the government, if only due to pressure from its electorate, which would accuse it, even if it would want to hold back, of betraying their besieged Palestinian brethren in the Gaza Strip. And there are numerous other examples.

However, if Bennett chooses to join league with Netanyahu and UAL, such a government would not be able to exist either. In a right-wing government, in the Gazan example (and not only there), UAL would be a mirror image of the Joint List. Moreover: Only someone in as desperate a state as Netanyahu could imagine a government in which Mansour Abbas and Itamar Ben-Gvir lie down together like the leopard and the kid in the vision in the Book of Isaiah; and even Bennett.

An exit from this dead end, (not) surprisingly, is out there, accessible and possible: Since the results of the fourth round are not allowing Lapid (or Bennett) on the one hand and Netanyahu on the other to establish governments with any shelf life, a fifth election is inescapable.

However, along with the nausea at the circumstances that will necessarily drag us to that, there is also a silver lining: There is a majority in the newly-elected Knesset that can make it possible for a stable government to be estabslihed after the fifth election. All that this majority needs to do is to pass a law limiting the tenure of a prime minister to two terms (legislation that Netanyahu strenuously demanded when he was in the opposition).

It is customary – and that’s absolutely fine – not to pass laws that are personal and retroactive. A vote on this in the Knesset (which will be sworn in next week) must be aimed at the future, at what will happen after the fifth election, no matter who wins it. Under the law, after that election, Netanyahu would not be able to serve as prime minister again. Likud, which could become a political party again and not a flock of sheep, will win back many voters. Legislation like this would provide a dramatic, perhaps even historic turning point leading Israel to social and political horizons that have been blocked for many years.

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