Latest Israeli election results are contradictory at best. Some polls show the Opposition Blue & White center-right coalition with a four-seat lead over Likud. Others show B&W with a one seat lead or in a tie.
UPDATE: Just as I publish this post, with nearly 80% of the vote counted, Likud holds a one seat lead over B&W. If the final 20% of votes do not change this result, Rivlin will have to go to Bibi to form the next government.
UPDATE 1: With 93% of votes counted, Likud and B&W are now in a dead heat. If these results continue with the remaining 7% vote totals, it would give the President the option of turning to Gantz first, before Bibi. Given the bad blood between them, I’d expect Rivlin would give the first shot to Gantz. However, the numbers overall look grim for the latter, as I explain below.
More importantly, the overall results favor Likud over the Opposition, because the right-wing parties fared slightly better than the center-left. So far, it appears there is only one path for B&W cobbling together a majority: if it invites Hadash to join. This would be an unprecedented development and would likely throw the Israeli electorate into a tumult because neither the Communist Party nor any Palestinian party has ever joined a governing coalition. The taboo against this option among Israeli Jews is quite strong. Not to mention that Benny Gantz, the B&W leader promised he would not do so, in response to taunting from Netanyahu predicting he would do just that.
President Rivlin, who has been belittled and demeaned at every turn by Netanyahu over the past decade, will likely offer Gantz the first opportunity to form the government if B&W gains more seats than Likud. But it appears that if Gantz keeps that promise, he cannot form the next government. Of the three major election polls, only one shows the right and center coalitions in a dead heat at 60 seats each. The other two show the right-wing coalition with a clear majority of 64-66 seats. Again, they both assume Gantz will not include Hadash.
If you’re feeling like this is déjà vu “all over again,” then you’re right. Three elections ago, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima scored a victory over Likud by winning more seats. But she could not put together a ruling coalition and Bibi returned to lead the next governing coalition.
There are no winners in this scenario. Even if Bibi does retain the premiership, he has done so by the skin of his teeth. All Trump and Putin’s horses and all their men couldn’t guarantee put Bibi back together again on the top of the political heap. They tried their damndest: moving the embassy to Jerusalem, cutting off refugee aid, closing the Palestinian embassy, recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, retrieving the body of a lost IDF soldier. All these goodies were offered to the Israeli electorate on a silver platter and none of it seemed to help much. Unless you wish to say that he would’ve won even fewer seats without this foreign meddling in the election.
But If a single party withdraws from his coalition at any point, he will have to go back to the polls. Netanyahu, who faces four major corruption charges, is a target for every rival who covets his seat. It seems clear that if he is indicted at least one or more of those rivals will try to force him to resign and precipitate an intra-party battle for power. At this point, I’d say chances are better than 50-50 that if indicted Netanyahu will be forced to resign. The indictments are still months away, as the attorney general must present them to Netanyahu and give him a chance to respond. Only then can the indictment and trial go forward.
If Netanyahu forms the next government, the legal crisis may not come to a head until he’s already served a year into his new term. But it will come.
Benny Gantz might consider himself a winner, in that he took every piece of mud and every conniving manipulation Bibi could throw at him, including what Trump and Putin threw his way, and still managed to beat him. However, the brass ring appears to have eluded Gantz.
There are many losers in this election result: Naftali Bennett, who broke away from Jewish Home to form his own party will not enter Knesset. His hopes of future leadership are dashed, at least this time around. Balad, the second Palestinian Party, may not enter Knesset either.
Another huge loser is the Labor Party, which seems to have been losing steadily since 1977. They declined from 24 seats in the last election to six this time. The collapse was due to the unmitigated stupidity of their current party leader, Avi Gabbay, a refugee from a Netanyahu cabinet, who split with her party co-leader, Tzipi Livni in a particularly humiliating way. Labor’s voters trashed him mercilessly for his crass behavior.
They also were presented a compelling reason to abandon Labor when Gantz offered a strong unified slate of candidates to rival the Likud. The thought of a fifth term nauseated Labor’s usual voters and drove them to B&W.
Israel’s far-right leaders, welcomed and connived to bring about the collapse of the Israeli Palestinian vote with all manner of persecution and harassment. Even as a right-wing nationalist they should have adopted the opposite approach. If they had robust minority participation they could continue to claim Israel was a democracy. The fact that none of this matters to them; that, in fact, they prefer no “Arabs” voting or even living in Israel, highlights the increasing fascism of the Jewish political majority.
Moshe Kahlon and his center-right Kulanu have had a precipitous fall from the last election and have barely passed the threshold. This means even if his party joins the governing coalition, he will likely not receive a senior ministerial post. Perhaps the biggest loser among potential future rivals of Netanyahu is Moshe Feiglin, whose Zehut Party was polling at seven seats as late as yesterday. He too has not passed the threshold.
In the expectation Bibi forms the next government, the overall result is the consolidation of the Jewish ethno-state. You will probably never hear me agreeing with Richard Spencer says or does; but in this, he coined a useful term to describe Israel today. If anything, the racialization and Jewish supremacy will intensify under the coming regime.
I am hoping that Democratic presidential candidates will, as a result, recalibrate their approach to Israel and intensify their criticism. Note that even a milquetoast centrist candidate like Pete Buttegieg recently denounced Netanyahu as “racist.” The Democratic Party must not support an apartheid state, whether it be white like South Africa or Jewish like Israel.