If countries had slogans, Israel’s would be ‘it’s complicated’.
Ideally, the two words should be accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.
But the phrase doesn’t just describe Israel’s difficult situation with her neighbours. It’s also an apt description of internal Israeli politics.
In 2010 the UK had its first coalition government in a generation. But in Israel, coalition governments aren’t the exception. They’re the norm. In fact, Israel has always had a coalition government because no single party has ever won the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120 seat parliament.
This means the winning party must join up with at least one other, in order to have enough seats to together form a government.
That’s where it gets interesting…And that’s where we’re at right now. Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats. So Netanyahu will ask other parties to join him in government. “Now the horse trading begins” as one commentator put it. (And when The Economist of all publications, calls this process ‘Mind Boggling Maths‘ you know you’re in trouble)
Netanyahu now has around one month to form a government. If he can’t, the President will ask the party with the second most votes (The Zionist Union) to form a government.
From 2009-13 Israel enjoyed/suffered (delete as appropriate) a seven party coalition. It’s likely we’ll see another large coalition with all sorts of different parties having to work together in government. (Note: If this sounds difficult, then you’re right, it is. The government could break up, triggering another election. It’s happened before.)
Mindful that so many of its neigbours are deprived of democracy, Israel has celebrated its electoral processes. The attitude is, ‘well if you’re going to do democracy, you might as well do it properly.’
When Israelis hold elections, they really hold elections.
Hence 26 different parties fighting the latest election. Hence an election now, only 2 years after the last one. Hence a high turn out rate (71.8%). Hence a national holiday on election day – so there can be no excuses for not turning up to vote!
On the final day before the election, Netanyahu dropped a bombshell. He stated unequivocally that if re elected, he would not allow there to be a Palestinian state.
Then, the next day, in a bid to get more of his supporters to vote, he warned, “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls”.
Both of these comments angered the left. Bloggers will no doubt debate whether Netanyahu’s second comment was racist, but the Palestinian State comment alone was a huge bombshell. It contradicted Netanyahu’s 2009 speech where he seemed much more open to a two state solution.
In the end these last minute comments helped Netanyahu’s Likud to triumph. If ever the phrase ‘lurch to the right’ was warranted, it was now. The UK equivalent of Netanyahu’s comments would be David Cameron promising 24 hours before the May election that if re-elected, the Conservatives would immediately pull the UK out of the EU.
Thanks to Netanyahu’s lurch, his party did much better than expected, and won 30 seats. Zionist Union only managed 24.
Cost of living crisis
This election was billed as a fight between two competing issues. Security and economics.
Netanyahu’s hard line speeches about defending Israel from Iran, coupled with his statesmanship persona have led to him being known as a man who can and will protect Israel. He wins the vote on security.
The Zionist Union’s leader Yitzach Herzog on the other hand, has been banging the drum for the many Israelis who have been squeezed by the cost of living crisis.
When I visited Tel Aviv in 2011 I was shocked to see hundreds of tents lining the busy streets. Citizens had taken to camping outside in the street to protest house prices! Childcare, fuel costs, electricity bills, food, rent, the list went on. Everything was too expensive.
Not much has changed since 2011.
Enter The Zionist Union – a left wing grouping who seem more concerned with the cost of living than anything else. And who can blame them? More Israelis are concerned about their mortgage payments than the prospect of a Hamas rocket hitting them. The greatest threat may be internal, rather than external.
But in the words of Arye Mekel, “This election proved that most Israeli citizens accept Netanyahu’s argument that before you deal with the quality of life, you have to deal with life itself, against enemies such as Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.”
What does Netanyahu’s reelection mean for relations with the Palestinians and the United States? Put bluntly, very little. The status quo is likely to continue. Only an optimist would see this election result as good news for the peace process.
Obama hasn’t got long left in the White House. He would no doubt love his legacy to be the man who solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But with Netanyahu back in power, Obama’s job remains tricky to say the least.
Israelis have voted for security over negotiations. Safety over economics. When all is said and done, this result will stand. There will be no uprisings. There will be no revolutions. There will be no accusations of election fixing. Why? Because this is Israel. And when Israelis hold elections, they really hold elections.