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Political stalemate in Israel

From Friday 2 April in Israel, dozens of protesters decided to gather outside the homes of political leaders Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Benny Gantz. The protesters urged their leaders not to form a government with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These were the first protests against the Likud leader since elections were held in the Jewish state on 23 March. The protesters then announced that they will continue to demonstrate until Benjamin Netanyahu leaves office.
Rallies, such as those that have taken place in recent hours, will take place in the coming days in many cities in Israel, and likewise, there will be as many in front of the court where the trial for corruption, fraud and abuse of office against the Likud leader will resume on Monday.

A permanent picket line will be set up in Independence Park in Jerusalem.

The political situation in Israel, therefore, remains very tense, especially with regard to Benjamin Netanyahu, who hoped to emerge victorious from the parliamentary elections held on 23 March, but instead …

Instead, a clear winner did not emerge from the polls: neither of the two main blocs has the majority of 61 seats needed to create a government.

The camp headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu obtained 52 seats while their opponents together obtained 57; the 7 seats gained by Yamina’s ultra-nationalists and the 4 seats of Ra’am’s conservative Islamists remain “out of the count”.

Theoretically, but only theoretically, the parties that do not belong to the right-wing coalition control more than the 61 seats, so they would table the minimum number to govern together, but among them, there are very different parties, which have already ruled out any form of collaboration. In fact, among them, we find for example the nationalist right-wing of Israel, Casa Nostra, led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and the Joint List, the electoral cartel of centre-left parties representing Arab-Israelis.

What is certain, therefore, is that any government that would stand on 61 seats out of 120, however, would be dependent on the assent of all the members of the majority in every single vote, which would make it very fragile.

Net of what came out of the polls we can therefore say with some certainty that the country seems to be divided in two on the most important issue dividing Israeli politics: Netanyahu.

 

An important element to be analysed and recounted is the victory of the extremist parties. This is certainly a relevant fact in Israel’s internal politics.

In fact, the fourth round of elections gave seats to many small parties, some of them for the first time, and certainly made the ultra-religious right-wing emerge victoriously.

 

Certainly, among these, there is the Religious Zionist Party, which won six seats, an alliance of parties led by Bezalel Smotrich.

In the past, for example, he had proposed to segregate maternity wards so that Arab women would not give birth near Jewish women.

In 2006, Bezalel Smotrich also described himself as a proud homophobe, describing the Pride parade, held in Jerusalem the same year, as a “parade of beasts”.

In this alliance, there is also the party that goes by the name of Noam, openly against LGBT rights, an issue very dear to Israel.

Another party that is part of this ultra-right-wing alliance is Otzma Yehudit, which is led by Itamar Ben Gvir.

Otzma Yehudit and its leader take their inspiration from the manifesto “They must go” written by the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, who was murdered in 1990 in the United States. The manifesto states that there can be no coexistence between Jews and Arabs and that the only action to be taken is their expulsion.

In addition to this group, Tkuma, thanks to the election results, will enter parliament. Tkuma is a party that descends from the Kahanist movement.

This movement is a para-fascist and anti-Arab organisation which has been banned from taking part in elections since 1988. Tkuma will instead sit in the right-wing coalition, and in the event of a new mandate for Netanyahu will almost certainly have governmental roles.

 

A final variable that could influence the calculations in the coming days is the United Arab List (UAL) – a conservative Islamist party.

This party of religiously inspired Arab-Israelis, which in recent months split from the United Arab List, has emerged victorious in a way, as it managed to win four seats in the Knesset.

In fact, the United Arab List surprisingly passed the barrier of 3.25% of the votes and its leader Mansour Abbas hinted that he might eventually support a government led by Netanyahu in exchange for concrete improvements in the living conditions of Israeli-Arabs.

So far in the history of Israeli politics, it has never happened that an Arab-Israeli party has been part of the government majority.

 

What will happen is not obvious.

What is certain is that 5 April will be a very important day in Israel for two reasons, which are very much intertwined.

The first is that will begin the negotiations for the formation of a coalition government.

The second is that Benjamin Netanyahu is called to appear in court for the trials against him.

Certainly, the first move that those in the anti-Netanyahu coalition will try to make is to get rid of the current Knesset Speaker, Yavrin Levin, a supporter of “Bibi”. The second move they will try to make is to pass a law prohibiting people on criminal trial from serving as Prime Minister. This could certainly radically change the political framework of the country.

At the moment, however, this law does not exist in the Israeli legal system and until it is inserted Benjamin Netanyahu could become prime minister again. Everyone knows by now, not only in Israel, that Bibi is not disappointed by this situation in which no one can form a government. A situation of total uncertainty. A situation in which, after a short time, there is a return to elections (four times in two years) – which allows Benjamin Netanyahu to remain Prime Minister ad interim while waiting for the numbers to give the opportunity to form a new government.

So which are the possible scenarios: another interim government, a minority government, a government of national unity, another Netanyahu government supported by ultra-Orthodox parties, or going back to the elections again. All these options are far from improbable, as we have seen in Israel anything can happen when Benjamin Netanyahu and his lust for power are involved.

By Michele Brunori

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