Get ready for a truly crazy election. And no, I don’t mean the Trump show that is soon to come in America in 2020. I mean the Israeli elections in September. We are about to witness an unprecedented spectacle, an election that will be without comparison to any previous Israeli political contest. Why is this election so different? Allow me to explain.
In every Israeli election up till now the possible outcomes seemed simple but the electoral fight for said outcomes were intense and complicated. The left wing and the right wing would battle for percentages of the vote- one wing would win and that wing would rule. The exciting part of it was who would bring home the checkered flag, whose political maneuverings and machinations would produce the needed electoral clout to triumph.
But, in this election it’s the opposite. The polling has been stable for the past few weeks and this polling leaves out the possibility of a clean victory for any wing of the political establishment. The center and left bloc, led by Blue and White, will only muster 53-57 seats in total, not enough to form a coalition of 61. But, if you thought the right wing had the majority, you’d also be wrong. The right and religious bloc, led by Likud, is also polling at around 53-57 seats, again not enough to form a coalition. Also, neither of the parties in these two blocs seems to have any clear inclination to switch over and support their opposing political wing.
If you are wondering how its possible that neither of these wings add up to the 120 seats of the Knesset, then you are leading yourself to the wild card of this election- its reason for existing as well as its primary complicator- Yisrael Beitenu. Led by Russian Immigrant and controversial secular nationalist Avigdor Liberman, Yisrael Beitenu is a political party that was typically associated with the right and religious wing.
But now Liberman has maneuvered the party into an oddly centrist position. Liberman has decided that he will not align with any wing of the political establishment- he will not help the center left form a coalition or the right and religious form a coalition. Instead, Liberman wants a unity government- a coalition formed between Blue and White and Likud. Liberman has already declared that he will refuse to form a coalition with Arab parties, the far left Israeli Democratic Party, the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties of the right and the extremist right wing religious parties.
So, if Liberman has the seats needed to form a coalition, and Liberman wants a unity government, then this election doesn’t seem that complicated. A unity government will form between Blue and White and Likud, right? Wrong.
Both Blue and White and Netanyahu seem unwilling to enter into such an arrangement. Blue and White has made it a campaign pledge that they will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu as Prime Minister while he is under his current corruption investigations. Netanyahu still declares his loyalty to the extreme right wing and Haredi parties and shows no openness to accede to the demand that he bows out of a leadership position.
What this all means is that if the polls hold we will have an Israeli election where no clear and expected coalition can be proposed or possible. It means that the next government of Israeli will be created by some kind of complicated political dealing, surprising strategic move or about-face betrayal. What could these look like?
Liberman could go back on his pledge and form a deal with Likud and the right wing. Or, Liberman could form a coalition with left wing parties to attempt to put the final nail in Netanyahu’s coffin. Blue and White’s leader Gantz could be tasked with forming a coalition first and could get part of the Likud to break off and form a quasi-national unity government with Gantz as Prime Minister. Netanyahu could attempt something similar and attempt to break off parts of Blue and White to join his coalition.
The President, who ultimately decides who gets tasked with forming the coalition, could say that he demands Blue and White and Likud form a unity government. Maybe this leads to Netanyahu being forced out of Likud? Maybe it leads to a rotation agreement where Gantz from Blue and White serves two years as Prime Minister while Netanyahu finishes up his legal process? Maybe Blue and White and Netanyahu both go back on their respective promises and form the coalition that Liberman wants because they can’t be seen to defy the President and popular sentiment (which even now prefers a unity government to all other possible outcomes).
Or, this could all fail. The coalition talks could break down, the right and left wing could stay together and there would simply be no government that could be formed out of this new parliament. If that’s the case then a larger nightmare commences- Israel would go to elections again- for the third consecutive time. What would be the effect of such a large-scale failure of the current Israeli electoral system? Would Israelis press for a referendum to change the structure of elections and their parliament? Would there be a push for a stronger executive position in Israeli society that didn’t rely on this complicated back-room deal-making? Or, will there simply be chaos and deadlock and a weakening of civil society that could be the first step on a long road to an authoritarian government.
It’s impossible to know these answers. Professing ignorance and confusion seems to be the only sensible opinion to take. These coming elections will likely present Israel with the most drama-filled and spontaneously chaotic political maneuverings it has ever seen. It will be sad, it will be stressful it will be unexpected. All this is to say…stay tuned.