Rightwing and neo-liberal Israeli P. M. Benjamin Netanyahu, suffered a major setback in Israel’s general election on Tuesday as results gave the narrowest of victories for the rightwing-religious block and a surprisingly strong showing for a new centrist party formed last year, forcing the prime minister to say he will seek a “broad coalition to govern Israel.”
Netanyahu remains on course to continue as prime minister, as his rightwing electoral alliance, Likud-Beiteinu, is the biggest party after winning 31 of 120 seats in the next parliament. But it was a sharp drop from the present combined total of 42 for the two parties.
Hadash’s activists in Nazareth, Tuesday night (Photo: Al Ittihad)
With 99% of the votes counted from yesterday’s election for the 19th Knesset, the left-center and right-religious blocks are evenly matched at 60 seats each. The joint Likud-Beytnenu list, led by Netanyahu and Ivette (Avigdor) Liberman, has plummeted from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset to 31 seats. The big gainer is political newcomer Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is on 19 seats. The voter turnout was 66.6%, 1.4% higher than in the 2009 election, but lower than seemed likely at the earlier stages of voting yesterday. Labor has 15 seats (compared with 13 in the outgoing Knesset); Habayit Hayehudi, under Naftali Bennett, 11 seats (7); Shas 11 seats (11); Meretz 6 seats (3); Tzipi Livni’s Hatenuah 6 seats (-); United Torah Judaism 7 seats (5); Hadash 4 seats (4); Ra’am-Ta’al 4 seats (4); National Democratic Assembly – Balad 3 seats (3). Fascist and racist Otzma L’Israel will have no representative in the Knesset.
Hadash chairman, MK Muhammad Barakeh urged centrist Yesh Atid and the left to stand with Arab parties to thwart Netanyahu. “We have the opportunity to create a bloc – center, left, and Arabs,” he declared Tuesday night. “The time has come,” added MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), “This could be an historic opportunity to replace the extreme-right regime that has trampled democracy.” They called on party heads on the center, the left and Arab parties to “create a bloc to block the extremist Bibi, in order to preserve democratic spaces, to fight racism and struggle occupation.” But the basic problem to create a bloc is that the Jewish-Zionist parties of the left or center have never been willing to form a coalition with the non-Zionist Hadash and Arab parties, even form a bloc or a minority coalition relying on their votes. According to MK Barakeh: “Without Hadash and the Arab parties, there is no chance that the Center-Left can form a government on its own. That automatically weakens its hand in coalition negotiations.”
Furthermore, the Jewish-Zionist Center-Left is currently splintered into two major parties (Labor and Yesh Atid, with 15-19 seats each) and two smaller parties (Meretz and Hatnua, with 6-7 each). Netanyahu can pick off parts of this bloc at his convenience. So Netanyahu and Lapid should get along fine. Likud-Beitenu, Habayit Hayehudi (a hard-right party much strengthened by the elections) and Yesh Atid will have a majority of seats in the Knesset. To increase stability they include might the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing Shas party.
And what about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the occupation? According to Hadash there is little expectation on either side of significant movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to put an end to the occupation. Despite paying lip-service to the principle of two states for two people, Netanyahu has done almost nothing to advance it as a reality. In fact, accelerated settlement expansion has come very close to killing off the two-state solution for good.
The election was triggered when the neo-liberal coalition government failed to agree a budget. Last week it was disclosed that the deficit had ballooned to 39bn shekels (roughly 1bn dollars), almost double the forecast, because occupation and attempts to attack Iran. Among the “austerity measures” the new right and center government will have to consider are tax increases, raising VAT, reductions to child allowances, and public sector cuts. According to MK Khenin: “The government will be keen to avoid a return of the massive ‘social justice’ protests across the country 18 months ago.”