Israel will hold unprecedented third election in under a year

View of the main building of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in Jerusalem on December 26, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Israel’s third Knesset election in a year, on March 2, is less than two weeks away. It’s difficultto have election fever under such circumstances. It’s not called a fever when it persists for a year. Critics of Israel’s electoral system would call it a chronic disease rather than a fever, but it’s not that either.

It’s a sign that the Israeli electorate is divided. In Israel, the Knesset is elected by proportional representation, so parties get the same share of parliamentary seats as their proportion of the vote – as long as they receive at least 3.25% of the vote. If the country is split between left and right, it produces a Knesset that reflects that reality.

I am somewhat hopeful that this time around, the deadlock of the prior two rounds, with results that permitted neither major party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud or the Blue and White Party’s Benny Gantz to form a government, will be broken. The pressure to avoid a fourth election will be great. My hope is that it will result in the necessary compromises to form a stable, long-lasting government. I also hope that it will be headed by Gantz.

The polls show Gantz’s Blue and White slightly ahead of Likud, but since no political party will come close to getting more than 50% of the vote and more than 50% of the seats, the formation of a majority government will require forging a government coalition with other parties.

The Blue and White Party leader, a former Israeli army chief, whom on a recent White House visit President Donald Trump referred to respectfully as “the General,” has not ruled out a government that would include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. But as a practical matter, following last month’s indictment against Netanyahu on bribery and other corruption charges, it would have to be without Netanyahu himself.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu comes out on top in the election, there is at least a legal argument he can serve as prime minister until a final conviction in his case. Last week, the three Jerusalem District Court judges who will hear Netanyahu’s case were announced. Two of them have a record of toughness on public corruption.

Any other prime minister would have already stepped down. In 1977, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resigned following the disclosure he and his wife had maintained a bank account in the United States dating back to when he served as ambassador to the United States. The law required that he close it when he returned to live in Israel.

I am under no illusion that a prime minister Gantz would usher in a vastly more conciliatory policy toward the Palestinians of the kind I think Israel needs. Blue and White is a center-right party and “the general” has gone out of his way to endorse right-wing positions, including support for the Trump “peace” plan, which calls for Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank and the creation of a patchwork Palestinian state on the remaining 70% and on small slices of Israeli territory.

But if nothing else, an Israel led by a prime minister Gantz would restore respect for high moral standards. It would help heal the political divisions in the country. It would restore respect for the law. It would herald a period of stronger ties between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. In short, it would restore an Israel that is true to both its democratic and Jewish values.


Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel. To read more of Savren’s columns, visit cjn.org/savren.

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