Netanyahu Maintains Control of Knesset, For Now5 min read

Israel held its second election of 2019 last week, and the results provided a week-long debate about the future of the Israeli government.  This election was essentially to decide which party leader would be tasked with building a government over the next 6 weeks, and President Rivlin had until this afternoon (September 25th) to choose which person would fill this role. Benjamin Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for the past decade, but for the first time ever, he came close to losing control of the government.  Once the results came in, it was decided that Netanyahu had lost the vote and his Likud party would not retain the majority of the seats in the Knesset.  His opposition, former military chief Benjamin Gantz of the Blue and White Party, had won 33 of the 120 seats in the Knesset while the Likud had only won 32 seats (The Guardian). 

Netanyahu carried out his campaign with a very anti-Arab vernacular and was quoted saying, “there are now two options.  Either there will be a minority government that relies on those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists who murder our soldiers and civilians, or there will be a broad national government” (Halbfinger) after the election results were announced. This type of speech against the Arabic community of Israel is not only inflammatory and false, but it is also a method of delegitimizing the opposition party.  This type of statement created a surge of support of the conservative right-wing members of the Israeli government and likened the Blue and White Party to sympathizers with terrorists.  Much like Trump’s speech on immigrants, the negative comments made about Arabs rallies a specific portion of the population to support the political party that promises to keep them safe.

This incredibly small margin of victory (25.95% vs 25.1%) in favor of the Blue and White Party may not seem like a very large step for Israeli politics, but for the first time in 27 years, the Israeli Arab parties made a recommendation to President Rivlin.  The Israeli Arabic Party, the Joint List, recommended that the president should select Gantz over Netanyahu because of the way he had treated Arabic Israelites over the years of his rule.  This drastic change in association is a major step towards a more complete representation of the Israeli population because Netanyahu’s government has a history of completely ignoring the needs of this portion of the citizens.  This is a sign that the leadership under Netanyahu is starting to lose its grip, but it has not lost control yet.

Earlier today, September 25th, President Rivlin decided between the two men that Netanyahu will retain his role and spend the next six weeks attempting to lock in his 61 supporters in the Knesset.  This is a big if, because earlier in 2019, Netanyahu had the opportunity to create his government, but failed to rally support.  If he is able to gain 6 more supporters in the Knesset, he will retain his position, but if he fails, the opportunity will be passed to another member, most likely Gantz to attempt to gain a majority (Allyn).  There is no telling what will happen here, but I do not believe that Netanyahu will be able to rally the necessary support to gain a majority because the Israeli public opinion has changed so drastically in the past few years that it appears as if his reign is coming to a close.  However, even if the opportunity is given to Gantz to fill his government, there is still a possibility that this fails and then a third election would have to take place.  Gantz may not receive total backing from the Arabic party members because he hasn’t agreed to completely adopt their package of needs that they want to be addressed, and without complying with all of these changes, he will not win the majority (Halbfinger).  There has been a very creative idea that President Rivlin has thrown around as a potential idea that could prevent this third election from occurring.

President Rivlin’s idea comes from the precedent set in the 1980s where two political rivals served as Prime Minister for two years a piece, splitting the role because of the need to diversify the government.  Theoretically, Netanyahu and Gantz could spend two years as Prime Minister each in order to achieve these goals, but neither party seems to be willing to work together.  Gantz is on record as saying that he will never submit to the will of Netanyahu, while Netanyahu has agreements with religious groups to give them a place in the government (The Guardian).  This will fail to work because Gantz has said he plans on leading a secular government, so this agreement to include religious groups would undermine this idea.  The two leaders met with President Rivlin before he announced his decision that Netanyahu would get the first opportunity to create his government to discuss this possibility.  It was reported that the three men mainly discussed policy together to build trust and confidence and completely avoided the awkward subject of who would receive which position in the government (Guardian). 

         Overall, I believe it would be best if these two parties came to some formal agreement like the precedent that was set in the 1980s.  I think this because it would be the most representative government of the population possible because they represent such a wide array of interests and groups between the left Blue and White party and the conservative Likud party. Working together would serve their country as best as possible, but this would only work if Netanyahu is able to get over his inflammatory beliefs about the Arabic people living in Israel.  Once he stops delegitimizing his opponents by making them out to be supporters of terrorism, there is real potential that this Blue and White Party movement will take control of the government. 

Works Cited:

Allyn, Bobby. Netanyahu Tasked With Forming New Government As Possible Corruption Charges Loom : NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/09/25/764391610/netanyahu-tasked-with-forming-next-government-as-corruption-charges-loom.

Halbfinger, David. Israel’s Arab Parties Back Benny Gantz to End Netanyahu’s Grip – The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/22/world/middleeast/arab-list-israel-gantz-netanyahu.html?fbclid=IwAR21_6aWhHQDb_eT6z0lmemUwGeMZeanuclQbZKd1g3qvnufC49L1khwZxA#click=https://t.co/16hVNp2Zam.

Israeli Talks Ramp up as Final Election Count Tightens Deadlock | World News | The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/25/israeli-talks-ramp-up-as-final-election-count-tightens-deadlock.

1 thought on “Netanyahu Maintains Control of Knesset, For Now<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">5</span> min read</span>”

  1. The Israeli elections are a very interesting case study in how developed parliamentary democracies function and, perhaps, the dangers of it. The point I find most interesting is Netanyahu’s seeing co-opting of strong anti-Arab rhetoric and its potential implications. For one, it seems concerning that part of the coalition-building process, which seems to be the case here, is focused not on compromises on policy positions to enact a functioning coalition government, but instead on direct appeals to a base of support. Appealing to constituents outside one’s base in order to pressure another party leader to form a coalition is not itself bad, but it seems problematic when it is done through xenophobic rhetoric. This concern is coupled with the attempts by Netanyahu to delegitimize his opposition, the Blue and White Party, with ad-homonym attacks. This creates a situation in which Netanyahu, were he to secure the government, would be dependent on further antagonism of minority groups and political opponents to hold his power. This path is worrying for the future of Israeli politics.

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