News Analysis: Israel's political deadlock continues as possibility of 4th election looms large

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, March 12, 2020
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by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Israeli President Reuven Rivlin received on Wednesday the official results of the elections held last week, amid signs that the country's political deadlock will continue despite three elections within a year.

There was no clear winner in last week's vote, and the two main parties, the Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White party led by former military chief Benny Gantz, refuse to talk to each other over forming a unity government.

Like the previous two elections, both parties fell short of garnering majority in the 120-seat Israeli parliament to form a new government.

"The elections show that the country is divided, not in terms of policy, but in terms of personality," said Yonatan Freeman of the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Both Netanyahu and Gantz represent very similar policies vis-à-vis various issues," Freeman noted.

The bloc opposing Netanyahu holds the majority of the parliament, but they are also divided. They do not have much in common with the Arabs on one side and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu on another.

Gantz, former Israeli chief of staff, appeared to lack the political mastery to become the conductor of such a heterogeneous bloc, experts said.

"There is more and more fragmentation (within the bloc), compared to the last round," Freeman said.

There have been calls for Gantz and Netanyahu to form a unity government to lead the country out of the protracted political crisis, but for now both are entrenched in their own positions.

"The results are similar to the previous elections and the general picture hasn't changed," said Assaf Shapira, a researcher at the Israeli Democracy Institute.

A political new-comer, Gantz entered Israeli politics by vowing that he will not sit in the same government with an indicted prime minister. He was referring to Netanyahu, who has been charged with corruption and will face trial next week.

Although Netanyahu and Gantz held brief talks after the previous election held in September 2019, this time it seems less likely that they will hold talks on forming a coalition government.

Gantz has not yet received the official mandate from the Israeli president to begin forming a coalition, but he has already begun negotiating with Yisrael Beiteinu headed by Avigdor Lieberman, which has seven seats.

In order to clinch a majority of 61 seats, Gantz needs to turn to the Arab bloc who has 15 seats.

On the campaign trail, Gantz said the Blue and White party would not partner with the Joint List of Arab Parties. But, after realizing this is his only option, Gantz has taken a U-turn and is now negotiating with the Arab bloc, to the dismay of some his own party members.

Traditionally, Arab lawmakers have not joined any government in Israel for ideological reasons and their automatic support for the Palestinians. The complex Israeli political reality makes forging a partnership with the Arab party a delicate, contentious matter.

"There is potential for such a government," Shapira told Xinhua, "If the Arab minority will agree to the principle guidelines of the government which will give civilian benefits to the Arab population, such a government may be able to function properly."

"But in a country like Israel where there are critical decisions, it will not be easy," he added.

There are also divisions within the Arab bloc and it is unclear whether all members will support a coalition government with the Blue and White party.

Recently, a member of the seven-seat left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz party announced she would not support such a government. This is a major blow to Gantz's minority government bid, if it is not fatal. With the numbers so tight, any defection is critical.

"Every mandate counts at this point," said Shapira.

Yair Lapid, a founding member of the Blue and White party, said that there are only two options: either forming a minority government or holding new election.

Next week, Rivlin is to announce his choice of the prime minister-designate, who received the most recommendations from the political parties, to form a government.

Netanyahu's Likud now leads a bloc of 58 seats, 3 seats short of a parliamentary majority.

As Gantz's chances have taken a hit in recent days, Israel may be headed for an unprecedented fourth election.

"A unity government by Netanyahu and Gantz seems highly unlikely and a minority government will be very difficult to achieve, therefore, the default path is a 4th election," said Shapira.

There are now three months in which a candidate can attempt to form a government. Should these attempts fail, Israel will automatically hold a new election. Enditem

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