Bibi: The Hidden Consequences of His Victory

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu; drawing by James Ferguson

Benjamin Netanyahu has won again. He will have no difficulty putting together a solid right-wing coalition. It’s true that his erstwhile ally and present enemy, Moshe Kahlon, a relatively moderate Likudnik who now heads his own party, Kulanu, holds the balance of power between the left and right blocs in his hands; but there’s no reason to think that he’ll refrain from joining the Netanyahu government, probably as finance minister. With Kahlon’s party, the Likud and its hard-core satellites have fifty-four of the 120 Knesset seats. The so-called left, led by the Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni (which is really somewhere in the center-right) and including the one true leftist party, Meretz (five seats) and the Joint List of Arab Parties, can muster forty-two seats. In the center is Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid—“There Is a Future”—with eleven seats, while the ultra-religious parties hold thirteen seats.

The religious parties have, by now, a very strong affinity with the right, even though historically, not so long ago, large parts of the ultra-religious camp were moderate in their views on making peace with the Palestinians. Compared with the outgoing Knesset—the left with thirty-two seats, “the center” with twenty-seven, the right with forty-three, the religious parties with eighteen—the new one shows a shrinking center and an apparent increase of around ten seats for each of the two largest groupings.

There was a telling shift to the Likud by voters who previously had gone with extreme-right parties such as Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home (down from twelve to eight). The lunatic right, embodied by the Yachad party of Eli Yishai—the former coleader of the center-right Shas party, who has now allied with Baruch Marzel, once a leading member of the outlawed and racist Kach movement—did not make it past the threshold of 3.25 percent of the total vote. The Arab Joint List, with thirteen seats, is now the third-largest party in the Knesset. One could say that these results reveal a very slight movement of the electorate toward the center-left, with the two major blocs remaining more or less stable and the right still firmly ahead.

But the naked numbers may be deceptive. What really counts is the fact that the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases protofascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.

These results would not have come as such a surprise were it not for the opinion polls of the last weeks of the campaign, which mostly showed a groundswell of disaffection with Netanyahu and put the Zionist Union ahead of the Likud by a small margin. The polls—including the early exit polls on election day itself—were dramatically wrong; some of them may well…


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