With the Israeli election over, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to prepare to form his coalition for his fifth term after beating Lt. Gen. (Res.) Benny Gantz.
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin on April 17 told Netanyahu to form a government. Netanyahu has 42 days to form a coalition of at least 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. If he is unable to do so in that time frame, Rivlin can ask another party leader to attempt to form a coalition, likely Gantz.
Former Shaker Heights resident Aaron David Miller, vice president for new initiatives and Middle East program director at the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., who has served as a State Department analyst, negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations, said the reality of Netanyahu’s re-election reflects a “trend line rather than a headline.”
“I don’t think this was breaking news, frankly,” Miller said by phone from Washington, D.C. “The reality is over the last 42 years, since Menachem Begin in 1977 laid claim to establishing Likud as a dominant party in Israel – that was the party that he and Ariel Sharon formed in 1973 – 31 out of those 42 years, Likud governments have dominated. They’ve won 10 elections, one tie and three losses. So, this seems to me, was not a surprise.”
Miller said combining that what he calls the reality that the Israeli public has drifted rightward over the decade, the only route to a coalition would be Netanyahu together with several religious parties and right and right-of-center parties.
“Israelis perceive Netanyahu, despite all his flaws and the way he’s played his politics, his twinning with (U.S. President) Donald Trump, antics in the polls and three indictments – which are critically important to understanding Mr. Netanyahu’s motivation, one for bribery and another two for breach of trust and fraud – despite all of those things, he has governed Israel over the last decade in a way that has delivered not only relative security and not only a high degree of economic prosperity ... but also expanding, and this is the paradox, expanding Israeli’s relations into Africa, Latin America and establishing relationships both with Donald Trump and with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” Miller said. “No Israeli prime minister has managed to accomplish that. I think that’s the third element, it seems to me, in the Netanyahu victory. One, the fact that Likud has emerged as the dominant party, a second that Israel has drifted rightward and the only real path to governance is in formation with right-wing and religious and ultra-religious parties. And three, the reality is for most Israelis, when you look at even the polls for who is the most suitable candidate to be prime minister – who is the most prime ministerial, the one you would essentially trust – all of those reasons combined to bring his best performance at 36 Knesset seats. Not the best performance of a Likud leader, but it is his best performance. That’s the reason I’m not surprised.”
Miller said if he was surprised by anything, it was the showing of Gantz, who earned 35 Knesset seats despite his centrist Blue and White party not existing four months ago. Also surprising was that success despite the decimation of the left-wing parties of Israel’s government, including the Israeli Labor party, formerly the left-wing counterpart to the Likud party, which earned a mere six seats.
Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities in Columbus, said it’s “never surprising” to see Netanyahu win.
“He’s about to become the longest-serving prime minister (in July), so obviously he’s done a very good job both on the politics of it and the governing of it,” Beigelman said. “It wasn’t a surprise, but he did obviously have his strongest opposition in years in Blue and White. There was a sense that maybe it would be different this year, but you never want to count him out.”
Beigelman said the elections were “a testament to Israel.”
“The level of civic engagement, it’s a testament to what Israel is – a thriving democracy,” Beigelman said. “Here Israel held a very spirited election and the opposition will stay the opposition and will work democratically to make the country better. I think that’s a real testament to the vision and dream of Israel. I think (what) we’re seeing with Israel and we hope to see (in the U.S.) as well, (is) that there’s elections and then there’s governing. You want people of different parties and philosophies to get along together and I think we’re seeing that in Israel.”
Beachwood resident Michael Siegel, chairman of the board of governors for The Jewish Agency for Israel, the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world, said the most surprising thing to him was the failure of the New Right party, led by Naftali Bennett, Israeli’s former education minister, and Ayelet Shaked, the country’s former justice minister, to earn enough votes necessary to enter the Knesset. Israel requires parties to receive at least 3.25% of the vote to enter the Knesset and the New Right party fell fewer than 1,500 votes short of the threshold, according to JTA. Siegel also said he was surprised the Libertarian-like Zehut party and its chairman Moshe Feiglin, a former Likud party member, failed to make the vote threshold.
“The only thing that’s clear about the election so far is that the Blue and White party cannot form a government,” said Siegel. “It’s not necessarily concluded that (Netanyahu) in forming the coalition won’t have to give up a certain amount of power that he has consolidated.”
Siegal cited Avigdor Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu, which won five seats, as an example of Netanyahu possibly needing to cede power. Liberman previously served as Netanyahu’s defense minister but resigned over what he called a “soft” policy regarding the Gaza strip. Without Liberman’s five seats, Netanyahu cannot form a coalition, so Liberman is in position to ask for concessions from Netanyahu in exchange for his support.
“So, Liberman and his five seats really will determine whether or not (Netanyahu) forms a government, doesn’t form a government, has to reach out to other elements of the possibility of a national unity government (with the Blue and White party), so at this point I think a lot of it is premature,” Siegel said. “It’s not surprising Likud and Blue and White were close in the (election), that was foreseen. It’s early to try and presume what the outcome is, as well as the fact that we’re certainly expecting the Trump administration to lay out ‘the deal of the century’ (a Middle East peace deal), as (Trump) calls it, sometime in the next 30 days. So what does that mean in terms of the availability to form a coalition?”