The Israeli election and Liberman’s conditions.

Heavy Russian Liberman is the pivotal figure today, but he is also the problem.

Barry Shaw

OpEds תוצאות אמת
תוצאות אמת

The Israeli elections on September 2019 proved one thing. Not only is Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, it is also a global democracy on steroids.

The election results showed the benefits but mainly the faults of a multi-party electoral system.

The race started with 31 hopeful parties. At the end of the voting process Israel was left with nine political parties winning seats in the 22nd Knesset.

Israel has to change the law by lifting the electoral threshold for allocated seats in a future Knesset from the current bar of 3.25% to 5%.

The outcome of a very tight race left the Israeli version of the Siamese twins able to form a narrow majority government but shackled from doing so by pre-conditions set by Benny Ganz, the leader of the Blue & White party, who said he would never sit in a joint government with a leader facing criminal charges, referring to the corruption charges faced by Likud leader and perennial Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Unless Ganz climbs down from his moral tree Israel is frozen in a stand-off and could, potentially be facing its third election in under a year.

President Reuven Rivlin said he would not allow this to happen, but he has no constitutional role in deciding the outcome.

The spoiler in the game is the blunt Russian, Avigdor Liberman. He’s the tough guy who is calling the shots having positioned himself as a centrist party (in his opinion) winning nine decisive seats. This has enabled him to be the pivotal figure in the race to power.

Likud is unable to form a right-wing government. The lack of mandates earned by the small right-wing and religious parties prevent that option without Liberman, and Liberman made issues with the religious parties part of his electioneering platform. No right-religious deal is possible without the heavy Liberman climbing down from his political tree.

Ganz is unable to form a center-left coalition even with the Arab party without Liberman because Liberman has said he will not sit in any government with the current Arab politicians, most of whom he correctly sees as anti-Israel antagonists and not part of the Israeli consensus. (His Russian voters are right wing.)

With the final votes not yet in, Liberman faced the press the morning after election night to itemize his conditions for joining a 73-seat unity government with the Likud and Blue & White. He insisted that the recruitment law which requires every citizen to serve in the IDF, must apply to the haredi religious community in which most of the young men spend their years studying in yeshivot (higher Torah study institutes). He also insisted that all Israelis, including the haredi and haredi religious Zionists who have their own strictly religious education, must go through the general state education system. The religious student can, insisted Liberman, continue his religious studies after the regular education where he will learn worldly subjects like mathematics, geography, languages, etc.

Liberman’s final condition hit at the strictures placed on regular Israelis by the religious political parties of the past. He insisted that public transport be allowed to operate on the Sabbath, changing the status quo on religion and state extant since its establishment.. The religious parties look on this as a desecration of the Jewish holy day of the week in the Jewish state. Many secular Israelis look on the absence of public transportation on Saturdays as forced imposition. Saturday is the only free day of the week for working Israelis. He claims, despite the plethora of cars and private services, that lack of transport prevents many Israelis from visiting family or simply enjoy traveling wherever they want on their one day of leisure.

The problem with Liberman for the two main parties is that they never know what new imposition the heavy Russian will lay on them next. Liberman destroyed a previous Netanyahu-coalition because he was unhappy by the way the Prime Minister handled Hamas in Gaza. He thought Netanyahu was too kid-gloved in not responding hard enough against Hamas after one of their rocket bombardments on Israeli civilians. 

The Likud and Blue & White have the ability of forming a narrow two-party coalition of 64 seats, if only Ganz can climb down from his tree. He insisted that he would never share a government with Netanyahu facing impending charges.

Then we come to the tricky ego-charged question of who will be Israel’s next Prime Minister. Ganz or Netanyahu.

The process demands that the leaders of every party elected to the next Knesset recommend to the president which leader they prefer to be prime minister. Of the nine parties, four will choose Netanyahu, four will choose Ganz, and no one knows what Liberman will whisper in Rivlin's ear.

This is where President Reuven Rivlin has to transform himself into King Solomon. He has to knock heads together and impose a solution dividing up the electoral baby.

It may hurt, but it’s better than Israel facing yet another election in February.

Barry Shaw is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.