Netanyahu and the alignment of convenience


Tuesday night’s election confirmed Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to maintain a durable parliamentary majority. Yet at the same time, it was hardly a victorious night for Netanyahu’s rivals, who failed to grasp a threatening total of seats. The Likud party now awaits an alignment of conveniences in the struggle to form alliances with far-right and ultra-orthodox parties. The implications in forming unstable alliances with extremist parties seems to be the consequence of Israel’s multi-party system, one that forces parties across the political spectrum to engage in compromise with each other. 

The problem in Israel is that the Knesset is home to a breeding ground of extremism, with Netanyahu likely to look to Otzma Yehudit in coalition talks. The leader of the party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, gained notoriety after displaying a picture of Baruch Goldstein (perpetrator of the 1994 massacre against Palestinians) in his home. He has also demanded the deportation of Arab citizens ‘not loyal to Israel’. 

Conversely, Netanyahu may turn to Ra’am, an Arab Islamist party, for support. Mansour Abbas has publicly acknowledged his willingness to work with Netanyahu and may well hold the keys to Netanyahu’s fourth turn as Prime Minister. Abbas’s support of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem holding its capital makes him an unlikely ally of the Likud party. Despite denouncing Ra’am as an ‘anti-Zionist party’, inherent within Israel’s political system is a purposefully designed parliament built for compromise. Netanyahu will either have to build bridges or rely on the support of the extreme right-wing factions to maintain his hold on power.

The paralysis brought about by the failure of Netanyahu and his opponents to build a durable majority is a reflection of Israel’s political crisis

Israel’s recent elections pose further questions. How healthy is it for a democratic political system to enable one person to hold power for so long? Despite charges of corruption and an ongoing bribery and fraud trial, Netanyahu reigns indispensable. Critics fear that he will use his position to propose legal reforms that would limit the role of the Supreme Court and grant him legal immunity. Even with these charges, Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged as the largest party in the Knesset with a quarter of votes. Widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s popularity, this election seems to have reaffirmed the place of ‘Bibi’ as a divisive political actor. 

Moreover, Israel’s political system appears to promote dysfunction. The paralysis brought about by the failure of Netanyahu and his opponents to build a durable majority is a reflection of Israel’s political crisis. This has been Israel’s fourth election within two years, the last being in 2019. Since that last election, Israel has been in gridlock with neither a stable government nor a national budget amidst a global pandemic. The multi-party system allows extremism to fester, with the high possibility of winning seats. Rather than encouraging a pull towards the centre, parties with radically different ideologies are expected to work together. The inability of the parties to form alliances and work together has left Israel wounded by the pandemic, with no national budget there was no sure economic support or plan provided for Israelis and businesses. 

Tuesday’s turnout dropped to 67.4%, the lowest recorded turnout since 2009. The evident political dissatisfaction was redeemed by Israel’s astonishingly successful vaccination rollout, in which nearly half of Israelis have received two doses of the vaccine. But what remains, is an economy near collapse, a high unemployment rate, and a prime minister accused of abuse of power.

Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Flickr

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