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The best outcome of these elections is if things don't get worse

These elections have turned into a referendum on the annexation of the West Bank — but that’s not something for Israel to decide. Five thoughts on Israel’s upcoming elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during an election campaign tour in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during an election campaign tour in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)


In many ways Tuesday’s general elections in Israel seem fixed if you’re among the ranks of people hoping to see Benjamin Netanyahu end his decade-long reign as prime minister. Even if his challenger, Benny Gantz, wins a plurality of Knesset seats, besting Netanyahu’s Likud, he still doesn’t have the numbers to form a government.

As Dahlia Scheindlin has written here on numerous occasions, there is simply little chance that the blocs of parties — left, center, and right — change enough in size in order for a left-wing or center-left government to be formed. That is particularly true when you remove the Arab parties from the equation: no Arab party has ever been invited into a ruling coalition and the current candidates don’t seem eager to change that.

There is one wildcard, though. At the behest of Avigdor Liberman, Israel raised the election threshold from 2 percent to 3.5 percent in a bid to keep out smaller Arab parties. That didn’t work because the four small Arab parties ran on a joint slate, getting a record 13 seats together. This time, however, that higher threshold could be a game changer.

In the current election cycle, the right-wing bloc is saturated with smaller parties, many of whom are teetering on the electoral threshold. If they don’t receive 3.5 percent of the overall vote, their piece is simply removed from the pie, affecting the relative allocation of Knesset seats in each bloc.

There are 6,339,279 Israeli citizens eligible to vote on Tuesday. Assuming they all vote, if two right-wing parties get only 3 percent of the overall vote and don’t pass the threshold, that is more than 380,000 votes that aren’t going to any right-wing party. When the total number of votes garnered by each party is divvied up into 120 seats, therefore, the size of the right-wing bloc shrinks. The irony is that because the blocs rarely shift in size, the more successful Netanyahu’s Likud performs, the greater the likelihood that he siphons votes away from smaller right-wing parties.



Pollsters are woe to predict how that could play out, but all seem to agree that it could change the electoral map in a way that provides one of the few variables that could potentially destabilize the parliamentary math that otherwise guarantee another Netanyahu term.

However, things could also go the other way. The Joint List of Arab parties split in two in recent months and one of the two splinter lists is also straddling the threshold. If Ra’am-Balad doesn’t make it through but all the right-wing parties do, that would shrink the center-left bloc, making another Netanyahu victory even more of a sure thing.


Last week, I wrote that these elections are a choice between resignation and despair, or a choice between the bad status quo and something even worse.  Whereas last time around a vote for Netanyahu was a vote for the status quo, this time his challengers are offering the status quo of occupation and Netanyahu is promising change for the worse.

In other words, there’s no foreseeable outcome in which the situation gets better if you’re in the camp of people who want to see human and civil rights, an end to the occupation, and a less discriminatory and racist system in Israel-Palestine.

In the United States people often speak of presidential elections in terms of choosing the least-worst option. In Israel of 2019, hoping for the least-worst option is putting your faith in the slim chance that things don’t get worse.


Speaking of things getting worse, aside from the possibility of even more unabashed racists who want to advance ethnic cleansing, we now have a better idea of what worse could look like. Netanyahu said on more than one occasion in recent days that if he is reelected, he will begin extending Israeli sovereignty to every last Israeli settlement in the still-occupied West Bank.

The idea that Israelis — and not Palestinians — are going to the polls to “democratically” determine the fate of Palestine is nothing short of absurd and antithetical to the idea of self-determination and democracy. (I wrote more about here.)

An Israeli soldier checks the ID of a Palestinian man the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, January 14, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier checks the ID of a Palestinian man the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, January 14, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

But what would Netanyahu’s vision of annexation look like? On the ground, probably not a whole lot. As I wrote, a creeping, de facto, annexation is already taking place and will continue to progress even if Netanyahu isn’t elected. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any consequences. The more Netanyahu rips the mask off of policies that decades of Israeli administrations told white little lies about, primarily the fallacy that the occupation is temporary, the more the world will have to deal with its decision to buy into those falsehoods.

Israel’s decision to treat its undemocratic two-tiered military system of control over millions of Palestinians and their land while granting full civil and political rights to Jewish Israelis living on the same land as an occupation was strategic. Military occupation is by definition temporary. Likewise, the façade of Israeli buy-in to decades of peace processes that would presumably result in an end to that occupation, gave the world an excuse to not treat Israel as a regime that keeps a non-citizen population of millions under oppressive, discriminatory, apartheid-like conditions.

Of course, Netanyahu and the Israeli right never truly considered ending Israeli military control over the Palestinian territories. Netanyahu has been up front and open about that for years — all you had to do was listen. Now it will be much harder to cover one’s eyes and ears and other countries are going to have to decide what to do, now that it is impossible to ignore.


The other thing that Netanyahu said in interviews over the weekend is that Israel will demolish the entire Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar within days. Some have posited that this would be a pre-election ploy. At this point, that is unlikely to happen before the polls open. But as nefarious and disgusting as that would be as a last-minute bone to throw to the right-wing base, the reasons for him to demolish the village in the days after the election are just as bad, if not worse.

Palestinian, foreign, and Israeli activists try to block an Israeli bulldozer preparing for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian, foreign, and Israeli activists try to block an Israeli bulldozer preparing for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, July 4, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

If Netanyahu is tasked with forming the next Israeli government, it appears (before knowing the results) that it will be by far the most extremist right-wing, nationalist, and Jewish supremacist government this country has ever seen. In order to build that coalition, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, Netanyahu will have to prove his right-wing bona fides to the far-right parties he needs to court. Demolishing Khan al-Ahmar is one of their loudest demands, and Netanyahu’s reluctance to demolish it thus far has been one of their chief complaints against it.

The reason Khan al-Ahmar hasn’t been demolished so far, remember, is that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court made an unambiguous warning to Israeli leaders and military officials that carrying out those plans is a presumptive war crime. “[I] continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action,” she said.

All of that is, of course, secondary to the human devastation that would necessarily result from the despicable criminal act of forcibly displacing an entire village.


Lastly, and there’s too much to get into on this one, is the looming indictments that Netanyahu is facing. The consensus among Israeli political analysts is that with the threat of imprisonment so real, Netanyahu will do just about anything in order to ensure his survival. The most likely manifestation of that desperation is probably broad capitulations to extremist political demands by far-right parties in exchange for guarantees of ensuring immunity of some sort. His demands to ensure his survival, however, could put the Israeli political system into a severe constitutional crisis, especially considering Netanyahu has said he will refuse to resign if and when he is indicted.

So here’s to things not getting worse.

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    1. Ben

      I remember many a right winger or “center left” pretender telling me, “Why are you talking about Feiglin? He’s marginal, he has no influence.” Turns out Feiglin was not marginal at all. And Tomer Persico knows what he is talking about:

      A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin

      Turns out, Feiglin the neo-(Judeo)fascist jihadi, the holy war enthusiast, is not so marginal at all for masses of Israelis. Turns out all Feiglin had to do was offer them legalized pot smoking and claptrap about libertarianism and “freedom,” and legions of hungry young Israelis are eager to sign on to the main meal, the judeofascist entree that goes with the cannabis appetizer. History repeats itself as not quite a farce.

      A lot of these Feiglin camp followers are being described as, are describing themselves as….”center-left”!!

      What better shows that the mainstream of Israeli politics is an extremist mainstream? And that there really is no true left in Israeli politics, the country going to the far right dogs.

      We do not use the term “judeofascist” lightly. Read the Zehut platform. Zehut bluntly advocates ethnic cleansing, mass transfer, or mass-murder for those who resist. The term judeofascist is too polite. Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s “Judeonazi” term accurately applies.

      Jews coming in droves to the polls to vote for Feiglin and yet there are those who still earnestly talk of hope for a viable two-state solution if we just maintain the occupation status quo for fifty more years. What are they smoking? Now we know. Now we know.

      Israeliness is dead. It doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did. Israelis killed it, replaced it with Jewish supremacism. Young people coming in droves for none other than Moshe Feiglin.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      The Feiglinist state is here. The spirit of Feiglin is not “marginal.” Feiglin is not “marginal.” He is mainstream now. The torchbearer of Israeli mainstream extremism. And the Israeli Prime Minister too carries the torch. ==>

      “Likud provides right-wing activists with 1,200 body cameras to monitor Arab polling sites. The police confiscated dozens of these cameras, while Netanyahu said there should be cameras everywhere in order to ensure a “kosher” voting process.”

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        Feiglin (whom I have always been suspicious of) was not elected. But, gratifyingly, the Israeli left and the Arab parties have collapsed democratically. The Israeli population has shown great maturity.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          As usual, you understand nothing. 1. Netanyahu cannibalized Feiglin, sucking his ethos and his fanaticism and his poisons into Likud. 2. The left did not “collapse.” It withered into irrelevance a long time ago, smothering itself in its own incoherence and contradictions:

          “But the decline of the liberal and left parties goes far beyond personalities, petty politics, or plans to replace Netanyahu. The Labor Party is still one dedicated to promoting Zionism — an ideology that privileges Jewish Israelis at the expense of all other citizens. Shifting away from Zionism would mean undermining its raison d’être. … These elections, and the diminishing power of both Labor and Meretz in Israeli politics, show that the Zionist left’s strategy of superficial adjustments over radically overhauling its platform and agenda is backfiring. The inability of the Zionist left parties to address not only their own political shortcomings, but the very ideology that uprooted millions of Palestinians, turned them into refugees, and expropriated their land, means they will never truly transcend their built-in contradictions. As long as the Zionist left remains undecided over whether it is more terrified of forming a real alliance with Palestinians or with those who seek to disenfranchise Palestinians, they will continue to shrink into irrelevance.”

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          But let’s face it, there is never going to be a “Zionist Left” that is not a contradiction in terms and certainly not one that will accomplish anything without internal pressure from the Palestinians together with pressure from the outside.

          The trouble with you, Halevy is that you are far too comfortable. Too comfortable subjugating millions of Palestinians. When Palestinians finally stop serving as agents of their own oppression and hand back the keys and a second First Intifada ensues and Israel has to reoccupy directly the entire West Bank, and when the United States stops making occupation comfortable, when the cost of the occupation to Israelis changes, then Israelis like you will be forced to concede power. Quite clearly, outside pressure will be needed and this election only underscores that plain fact.

          Peter Beinart explains. Every line was written for you, Halevy:

          The trouble with you Halevy, is that you are like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

          Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine


      Reply to Comment
      • john

        am bibi chai
        is he the messiah?

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          What a strange question? He is the best ever Israeli prime minister

          Reply to Comment
          • john

            first david, now bibi.
            we’re in the messianic period you said, but still fail to distinguish political and religious authorities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You give Itshak Gordine Halevy too much credit by asking him questions with any nuance. Halevy is just an ordinary judeosupremacist, an ordinary national-religious-racist fanatic (other countries have their non-Jewish versions of this, his is just the Jewish version) who will latch opportunistically onto any religious or political rationale that suits him to justify it.

            In regards to all this Edo Konrad explains well what is really happening to the Left and to Israeli society here:

            You can see where Halevy fits in. Halevy is no different and no better than the White Christian Supremacist in Alabama or Amsterdam, he just thinks he is. And those guys in Alabama and Amsterdam are no better than Halevy, they just think they are.

            Reply to Comment