March 20, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
I haven’t lived in Israel now for 22 years. I don’t know how it feels to live surrounded by different groups of people who all want you dead. I am not in the firing line of rockets and I don’t have the information on the chances of actual peace that the Israeli population have. So I can’t really speak for them and ascribe motives for what seems to be, in terms of geopolitical strategy, a massive mistake. Giving enough votes to mean victory to a man who has admitted that no Palestinian State will be created as long as he is Prime Minister is one thing. That those who did so were too shy to tell pollsters they were going to do perhaps means that in the end, they know exactly what it means for Israel.
Before I go into the consequences of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party victory, I ought to explain how the Israeli election works. It is operated under what is known as the “party list” system of proportional representation. This means that, roughly, a party gets the exact percentage of seats as they got in votes. This is very different to the UK General election, which uses “First past the post”, meaning that a party just has to win by one vote in a constituency to win a seat outright (making it theoretically possible to have 100% of seats with 30% of the vote. Because the voters know that, they are more likely to vote for the party they actually want, not just one of the parties that can win a seat. This is why the results above show so many parties.
Given there are 120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), a Government needs 60 seats for a majority, and since 1949, when the first election was held, this has required a Coalition to be formed. This means that the President of Israel (a Head of State with no legislative power) will ask the person most likely to be able to form that coalition to try to do so. With 30 seats, Binyamin Netanyahu can now ask Naftali Bennett’s ‘Jewish Home’ (Bayit Yehudi), Avigdor Lieberman’s ‘Israel our Home’ (Yisrael Beiteinu), Moshe Kahlon’s ‘All of us’ (Kulanu) and the two ultra-religious parties (Shas and UTJ) to join him in a government that would have 67 seats, which is a workable majority of 14.
Forming a coalition involves giving jobs to politicians from other parties, but also it means accepting policies from politicians from other parties. This means, in order for Netanyahu to form this coalition, he will need to support the continued expansion of settlements and the refusal to move towards any effective Palestinian State.
Which is lucky, because in the four days between Friday (when no more opinion polls were to be published) and Tuesday (the day of the election), Netanyahu went on a massive publicity blitz in which he warned voters he might lose, warned voters that Israeli Arab voters were ‘turning out in their droves’, and then announced that he would oppose the creation of any Palestinian State. So, let’s be clear, those who went to the ballot box in their droves and voted for Bibi Netanyahu could be in no doubt that they were voting against the creation of a Palestinian State. That he has also said that there would be no withdrawals from the West Bank is added grist to this mill.
The frustration felt by the rest of the World has been tangible. Many people have been suggesting since Netanyahu first became Prime Minister in the late 1990s that he was not serious about peace and a Palestinian State, and now it looks like he really had been just pretending and had been dragging the American’s time and patience along all the while. In Europe, leaders have now begun openly debating sanctions against Israel to push for a sovereign Palestinian State. Given the Israeli people have voted for this, one can’t say that these are sanctions against a rogue leader than punish only his people, as they have democratically endorsed the position. The United Nations have already announced that it expects Israel to continue with the Middle East Peace Process. Europe and the United Nations have also reminded us that the settlements are illegal under international law. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority have reacted by continuing to push for Israel’s leaders and soldiers to be tried at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes relating to the deaths of civilians during last summer’s Gaza War and the continued building of settlements.
As I am constantly reminded by Jews and Israelis here and in Israel, us ‘armchair jews’ cannot possibly understand what it is like to be under constant attack. So this result is the Israeli people turning to the person and the strategy that they most feel can keep them safe.
But this is surely only for the short-term. In the long-term antagonising so many people (and Netanyahu will need to pray for a Republican victory in the US Presidential election or it will get worse) may find support and security for Israel compromised even more. It feels to me like this outcome is the end of the road for the peace process. It doesn’t feel to me like this makes Israel any safer.
I’ll leave the final comment to David Horowitz, the editor of the ‘Times of Israel’ website. He called Netanyahu “a political tactician in a different league from his rivals.” He then added that “amid the euphoria of victory, and the majority’s reaffirmation of faith in his leadership, will he take heed of the fact that a substantial proportion of the electorate is as shocked and horrified by Tuesday’s results as he and his supporters are shocked and delighted?”