FOR its most recent webinar, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) turned to Shmuel Rosner, Israeli analyst, author, columnist and editor across a wide range of Israeli and international media, to explain the post-election situation in Israel.
Rosner’s sharp analysis included two perhaps surprising but very important points. The first is that the election was a fight not over ideology, but personalities, with a bloc in support of Benjamin Netanyahu remaining prime minister, and another bloc favouring “anybody but Bibi”. A clear majority of Israelis voted for right-wing parties. In fact, he said, “the basic features of ideology in Israel, namely, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel and Iran, Israel in the Middle East, Israel, US relations, economic issues, all these matters are not under great debate in Israel.”
When asked if Israeli society is divided, he responded that it is psychologically, but not ideologically, although Israelis don’t realise they basically agree on most issues. He added, “You ask, why do we have so many parties, because we have nothing else to talk about other than who’s going to be prime minister, because we agree on everything else.”
The second point was the way the Arab parties are becoming part of the mainstream in Israeli politics, with the Arab parties putting their voters’ interests above those of the Palestinians, Islamist Arab party Ra’am being spoken about as the most likely to join Netanyahu’s coalition to give him the numbers to govern, and even right-wing parties openly discussing the possibility of partnering with Arab parties.
He said he “wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a hundred years from now, historians will look at this period as the watershed moment in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. It might not be that important, which party ultimately wins this election, you know, whether we have four or five rounds before we get to a conclusion, but the way Arab parties and Arab leaders are getting into the political game and becoming a part of it is dramatic. It’s highly surprising. It’s positive on many levels and … this is something that people who observe Israel both from within and from afar should take note of, because this is an important, not just political, but also social development that could alter the relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.” He added that most Israeli Arabs are proud to be Israeli.
Of the three possible outcomes of the election – a Netanyahu coalition, an anti-Netanyahu coalition or a fifth election, Rosner sees the latter as the most likely. Netanyahu, who has only 59 seats out of the required 61 even if he can entice Naftali Bennett’s Yamina to join him, would need to secure another party, or defectors from other parties.
An anti-Netanyahu coalition would be based around Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Yamina, and either would include the Arab parties, or would include the ultra-Orthodox parties but not the Arab parties, Yisrael Beiteinu or Meretz.
He was asked whether Israel’s political system was broken, but said it was more like a sock clogging a water pipe, with that figurative sock being Netanyahu, and that without Netanyahu on the scene, forming a coalition “would be the easiest task in the history of Israeli politics.”
Despite the political mess, however, he said the morale of Israelis isn’t bad, with the success of the vaccine program, for which Netanyahu deserves the credit, meaning life is returning to normal. Pointing out that Israel came 11th or 12th on the recently released World Happiness Index he said that was “good enough for me.”