Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Looking Ahead From Israel's Election

A mandate to remake Israeli democracy: Why this Netanyahu win would be different

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerges triumphant from Tuesday’s elections, a thoroughly realistic prospect, the superficial commentary will hail his extraordinary political survival skills.

The man who in three previous elections fought off a centrist alliance led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and hung on to power by his fingernails, it will be breathlessly noted, this time managed to defeat an array of anti-Bibi forces including two potent rivals from his own right-wing side of the political spectrum.

Yet another win, the headlines will chorus, for Israel’s indomitable prime minister.

Tribute will be paid to his indefatigable campaigning skills, to his blitz of media interviews, to his morning-to-night Election Day efforts desperately encouraging his supporters to go out and vote.

Netanyahu’s superb handling of the satellite parties loyal to him — the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the far-right Religious Zionism — will be contrasted with the self-defeating rivalries on the other side: Netanyahu essentially constructed the Religious Zionism alliance, brokering the deal to bring the extremist Otzma Yehudit under its aegis and thereby paving the path for it to clear the Knesset threshold to ensure no right-wing votes went to waste. In the center-left-Arab camp, by contrast, Meretz, Ra’am, Blue and White, and the New Economy parties all diced with political death because of a refusal to build alliances to defeat their common political enemy.

And his success will also be accurately ascribed to his proven ability, during an unprecedented 12 consecutive years as prime minister, to steer Israel wisely through the region’s shifting seas, minimizing the loss of Israeli life, and most recently embracing the normalization process with the United Arab Emirates at the price of shelving his plan to annex the settlements and other parts of the West Bank.

Accurate though all these commentaries would be, however, a Netanyahu victory in Tuesday’s vote would be more than just another remarkable win for the seemingly invincible Israeli political master. Because the only coalition he would be able to muster would be very different from any ruling alliance he has previously helmed, indeed different from any ruling alliance in the country’s history. It would comprise the most hawkish and conservative elements of the Israeli political spectrum, and them alone, at a time when those parties embrace more hardline policies than ever in the past.

If Netanyahu wins on Tuesday...his coalition will be spearheaded by his own Likud — nowadays largely opposed to any substantive effort at negotiation with and separation from the Palestinians, overwhelmingly supportive of laws to roll back the powers of Israel’s judiciary, and unswervingly personally loyal to Netanyahu himself. It will be joined by Naftali Bennett’s Orthodox-nationalist Yamina, which seeks to annex most of the West Bank.

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