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In the do-over elections, and forever, we’ll all be smarter

Voters got to see how parties behaved after elections, and parties now know the real risk of a hardline negotiation stance
An Israeli citizen at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on April 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An Israeli citizen at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on April 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A new election so soon after the previous campaign is unprecedented in the annals of Israeli democracy. The return to the polls certainly poses many problems and is a sign that Israeli democracy is in a state of crisis. On the other hand, now that the Knesset has dissolved itself, it seems that, despite the obvious drawbacks, Israeli citizens might also derive some benefits from the situation.

First, in the upcoming elections voters will know more about the parties they vote for. For example, voters are now more aware of the extent to which the parties and their elected representatives stick to the promises they made in the previous campaign. It is unlikely, it seems, that anyone can now make the mistake of thinking that the Prime Minister is indifferent about amending the Immunity Law, despite the fact that prior to the April elections he vehemently insisted he is not interested in this issue.

On the other hand, some politicians did keep the promises they made on the campaign trail – notably Avigdor Liberman, who refused to compromise on his conditions for joining the coalition. The public might now view Liberman’s promises as more trustworthy and sincere. So too for the Blue and White faction, which stood firm in its refusal to join a government with Netanyahu at its helm.

Second, the potential members of the next coalition now have a better grasp of the scope of controversies and tensions among the parties. In the efforts to form future governments, the factions will be more aware that they may fail, and will make sure to  clarify their disagreements earlier on in  the negotiations.

Another outcome that can be viewed as positive is that voters are now more knowledgeable about the real results of “strategic” voting approach. Many voters were influenced by their assessments of how others would vote, of whether the party they supported would pass the electoral threshold, or of which party would emerge as the largest faction in the Knesset. Now, after the ballots have been counted, voters are better able to assess the validity of these “strategic” considerations. For example, even after Blue and White managed to soak up many Knesset seats from the Labor Party, its total vote count still fell short of the Likud. So there is no real reason to vote for a particular party purely on the basis of what is framed as a “strategic” rationale.  

However, the main lesson to be learned applies to the long term: that is, politicians’ recognition of the possible price of extortion. The potential coalition parties tried to squeeze the maximum out of Netanyahu, knowing that without them, he could not form a government. But now they all know that there is another option, one that had never been seriously considered in the past – a second round of elections.

This insight may not have any effect on the upcoming elections, since it is hard to imagine a scenario of a third round in the immediate future. However, with regard to coalition negotiations in the future, it is now clear to all that a second round of elections is a realistic possibility, and if politicians are not keen on having to woo their voters all over again, they will need to demonstrate more flexibility in negotiations.

In retrospect,  the decision to dissolve the Knesset only a month after it was elected, will go down in history as one of the greatest fiascos – both  of Netanyahu and for Israeli democracy – and rightly so.  That said, we should not lose sight of the contribution of this very same decision to the stability and resilience of Israeli democracy.

About the Author
Prof. Amichai Cohen is a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, where he works on the National Security and Democracy project. He is also the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Ono Academic College, where he is a professor of International Law.
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