Israel will have a general election tomorrow. Getting a Deja vu? It would not be odd if you did, because this is a rematch of the contentious April elections which saw no party form a government.
Can Benjamin Netanyahu remain “king of Israel,” or does Benny Gantz’s hodgepodge coalition have Netanyahu’s number this time around? And if not a new king, will there be a new kingmaker in Avigdor Lieberman?
While these questions and more will be answered soon enough, many Israelis say this election could not come sooner. The country is strongly divided along not just between the left or right, but over Netanyahu himself. In fact, Gantz’s grand alliance of the Israeli center-left has staked the election on making a referendum on Netanyahu. They argue that the country is tired of division, controversy and corruption.
Netanyahu’s Likkud-Kulanu alliance, on the other hand, feels that Bibi is Israel’s indispensable man, necessary for diplomatic success as well as security. They claim that Israel is far better off than before thanks to his steady albeit divisive leadership.
But this election, though it is a do-over, is not the titanic clash that the previous one was. While both Gantz and Netanyahu top the tickets of the coalitions, the dynamics have changed dramatically. Refusing to capitulate to Haredi parties’ demands, Liberman left the right-wing coalition of Netanyahu and has found himself kingmaker. Polls now predict that neither side will deliver a knockout blow, instead relying on Liberman and his party’s seats to crown a winner. In fact, some pundits predict that the actual election is irrelevant compared to the jockeying for Liberman’s support, which will occur afterwards.
This seemingly bizarre situation is caused by Israel’s fractured system. While on paper it is a parliamentarian system, Israeli politics is fiercely divided between center left and right blocs. Both blocs contain a wide array of parties with dramatically different views, but who align together in coalition building. Since both blocs are roughly even in size, a third party is required to settle the score.
This trivial political fight is underscored by the massive stakes involved. Some say that a win for Netanyahu would take Israel in a worrisome direction with respect to democracy and civil rights for Palestinians, not to mention being a fatal blow to the peace process. He has already promised to annex the West Bank, a controversial move that is not supported by their majority of foreign nations.
If that is dramatic enough, Netanyahu is also under indictment on corruption charges and has made support for granting him immunity a precondition for joining his coalition.
On the other hand, Gantz’s new party, Kahol Lavan, is preparing for another high noon standoff, hoping to emerge victorious. Topped by charismatic military figures, the party may have enough moxxy and machismo, but is in danger of coming up short due to the hyper partisanship of Israeli elections.
Is Netanyahu headed for a coronation? Or, will Gantz take Israel in a new direction and send the longtime leader packing?
What happens is anybody’s guess, but with the fate of the Jewish state’s future on the line once more, all eyes will be on the ballot box as Israelis deliver the verdict.
Yoav Shames is a junior at The Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan.