Some of you may recall or be familiar with the lines from the song “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell, 1966): “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all“. Having undergone two cataract operations in the last few weeks, I can definitely relate to seeing “clouds” from both sides, from up and down, and illusions flowing from seeing people like trees walking. Maybe the fuzziness and haze that continued for about a week in each eye helped to avoid my reading all the nonsense that was published in the tabloids about the political rivalries leading up to Israel’s election today.
Yes, the rumours are true. Israel is having national elections today, for the third time in less than a year. In a few hours time, reporters will be scrambling to put out a story about the election and write about the “anticipated” and “unexpected” results. Eleven months ago, neither of the front-runners – Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu of the Likud Party and retired army General, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party – was able to gain a majority of 61 seats and, therefore, neither one was able to form a government, in line with the way things work here.
Accusations continued to fly across the political spectrum, with finger pointing and accusations of wrong-doing on “the other side”. It is the way of politics, oftentimes focusing more on the dirt of the opponent than on the merits of one pointing the finger.
The public is tired, frustrated and even angry that we are in round three of elections, with a tinge of anxiety that we may possibly be in for round four.
Unless there is a major shift in the party faithful (for whatever party it may be), it is not “expected” that the results of round three will be significantly different from the outcomes of rounds one and two. But, then again, this IS the land of miracles. So, we’ll soon know.
Notwithstanding that two weeks after the election Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be facing the beginning of a criminal trial on charges of alleged bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, he remains confident that the voting public will give him another vote of confidence and allow him to remain Prime Minister, a position that he now holds longer than any P.M. who preceded him.
Benny Gantz is hoping for a large voter turnout, similar to what happened in September, when his supporters turned out in greater numbers than the supporters of Netanyahu. A significant voter turnout will undoubtedly shift the scales of the results one way or another. Gantz has contended that it would be improper for an indicted Prime Minister to form a new government, a move which would weaken democratic institutions and undermine public confidence in the legal system that would allow this to happen.
And then, there is Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu (“Israel Home”) Party, who had been referred to as the “king pin” in the last two elections, who could have helped Netanyahu to form a right-wing government. Lieberman is the one blamed for the ongoing political crisis. He was the former Minister of Defense under Netanyahu, who resigned following a major flare-up with the Hamas terror organization two years back. The seats that his party won could have supported Netanyahu or Gantz, but he withheld endorsing either of them because of ideological conflicts. Still, he has pledged that there will not be a fourth election, although the reasons for making such a statement are anything but clear. He has, however, said that there will be “surprises”, which is not a word that is looked upon favorably in political circles. Lieberman has consistently vowed that he would not help form a government that is dependent upon religious parties (right) or the support of the Joint List of Arab partiers (left). He cannot now back-track on either position, as it would spell political doom for his party and, possibly, for him personally. So, what are the surprises? We’ll have to wait and see.
What are the possibilities that will emerge in the next few hours?
1. Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will succeed to garner enough votes to enable their respects politcal blocs to form a new government. And, in short order, after another few months of unsuccessful attempts to form a coalition government, we would be headed for a fourth round of elections. In such an event, Netanyahu would continue as the interim Prime Minister, while Gantz would be hard-pressed to go back on his campaign promise not to sit in a government with a Prime Minister under indictment. While not winning the election, Netanyahu will not have lost either. With the possibility of still another election in less than six months and a possible serious health crisis because of the coronavirus, Gantz would be pressed to compromise and fulfil one of his campaign slogans of putting the country first.
2. Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc (Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina Parties) could together generate enough votes to have a majority. But, he would probably face legal challenges that would cause the victory to be short-lived, unless he can somehow stymie the legal establishment and prevent his ouster.
3. Gantz and a left-wing coalition of parties (Blue and White, Labor, Gesher and Meretz) could gain the most votes, but not enough to form a majority government. Gantz might choose to form a minority government (fewer than 61 seats) without the Joint Arab List of Parties, whose existence will constantly be threatened by Likud and the right. However, this possibility would not appear very likely.
4. Blue and White (Gantz) become the largest party, short of a majority, but the need to form a government to avert another election will press Gantz to compromise with Netanyahu and for a unity government – not ideal for either of the front-runners, but workable. The open question would be whether Netanyahu can remain a member of the Knesset if he is convicted, or if the legal manoeuvring will allow him to keep his position until the next, regularly-scheduled election.
There are, of course, other possible outcomes. We’ve seen them happen in the past, notwithstanding campaign pledges and ideologies “etched in stone”. But, we are not yet at the point when the lion will lie down with the lamb. For now, we continue to pray for wisdom and for a resolution to the political stalemate that has caused our government to be in a holding pattern until one side runs out of gas or we’re given a clear runway for us to get back on track. With the polls set to close shortly, it may be a long night before we know whether we will wake up to another Groundhog Day.
‘Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ (Deuteronomy 1:13)
“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll [a]in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his [c]countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.