It is said that in the Middle East, it’s even hard to predict the past.
And as for the future, and specifically the results of national elections held in Israel on Tuesday — the second race this year — that’s even harder to say at this point. (We go to press Tuesday evenings.)
While the protracted political jockeying resulting from the close election will begin in earnest in the coming days, with the deadline for forming a coalition some weeks away, there are indications that Israel just might end up with a unity government, in large part due to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, who is already playing kingmaker.
Lieberman, a former close aide and ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu and now bitter adversary, refused to have his party join a Likud coalition after the April elections unless a bill calling for charedi young men to serve in the IDF was passed. That was nixed by the Orthodox parties and Netanyahu, reliant on the Orthodox bloc, came up one vote short of a coalition.
Now Lieberman, whose chief support comes from Russian-speaking Israelis, with an estimated 8 to 10 Knesset seats in Tuesday’s election, is calling for an emergency unity coalition of Likud on the right, and the centrist Blue and White party, even if he isn’t a part of the deal. But it’s not happening so fast. Ballots are still being counted, and Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff who heads the Blue and White ticket, has said he would not enter a coalition with Likud if Netanyahu was at the top. Would Likud members have the chutzpah to topple their powerful, longtime leader and anoint a new party chair?
Anything is possible in Israeli elections, but one lesson learned is never count Netanyahu out until it’s over. For now, though, the prime minister’s problems aren’t going away. Facing indictment in early October for three cases of fraud, he tried numerous ways to win definitively this week, but does not appear to have succeeded. He insisted the charges were themselves fraudulent, blaming government officials, the police, his political opponents and the media for his troubles. He sought and received pledges from party members to pass a bill when the Knesset reconvenes that would negate the indictment and he was prepared to overrule the Supreme Court through the Knesset should the court uphold the indictment. Further, to solidify his right-wing base, Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley, which is seen as a move that would permanently end chances for an eventual two-state solution with the Palestinians.
While Netanyahu was attracting widespread public and media attention, both positive and negative, Blue and White’s Gantz and journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, his No. 2 on the ticket, seemed satisfied to run a low-key campaign that elicited little enthusiasm.
So where are we now? The good news is that in the midst of a chaotic Middle East, Israel held another free, democratic election — a fact we all take for granted — with 30 parties running for office. The frustrating news is that it will take weeks for a winner to emerge. But be assured that while the drama is delayed, it’s coming — and the fate of Israel’s reputation as a full and vital democracy is at stake.
Keep up to date with the results of the Israeli elections here.