Showing posts with label Ra'am. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ra'am. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

At the Edge of Change? Will Israel get a New Government?

Yair Lapid, Leader of Yesh Atid
We are at an historic crossroads in Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has served as Israel's Prime Minister since 2009.  Over the past three years, he has led his party into four consecutive elections but  has not been able to put together a  stable government.  Plagued by a set of ongoing criminal charges, that are now being heard  in court as I write this blog, Netanyahu has faced an increasingly diverse and growing opposition to his continued rule.

After the last election, Netanyahu reluctantly entered into a rotation government with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz.  But the government was paralyzed by opposing political aspirations and a reluctance by Netanyahu to take any actions that might stabilize the government.  His continued hope was that he could keep holding elections until he could win - and piece together a coalition government that would enable him to legislate an end to his legal problems.  As a result, Netanyahu refused to appoint a wide range of ministers, failed to propose or pass a budget, blocked key committees and generally put up roadblocks to the resolution of a wide range of issues.  Moreover, in some areas, he made key decisions on his  own without even keeping his ministers in the loop.  The government collapsed and a 4th election was held.

Once again, the results were inconclusive.  Netanyahu won a plurality of votes, with an estimated  25% support from the Israeli electorate.  But  even though he and his Likud party won 30 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, he could not seem to garner the support of the additional 31 members needed to form a government.  It was close.  Likud had the support of 16 ultra-religious Knesset members along with 6  members of the extremist Religious Zionist party.  But that only adds up to 52.

Netanyahu figured that he could negotiate with the Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett, which had 7 seats.  Bennett agreed but that only brought the Likud to 59, just two short of a government.  But no one else was budging.  Netanyahu decided that he could woo the support of the Arab party Ra'am to join his coalition with their 4  seats - either as an outside supporter of the government or possibly as a formal coalition member.  This would be a real watershed in Israeli politics - to have an Arab party become a full participant in a government.  But the Religious Zionist party balked and refused to have anything to do with Ra'am or to even consider joining a government that would be supported in any way by Ra'am.

At the same time, the opposition, led by Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid" ("There is a Future") party actively negotiated with Bennett and offered his Yamina party a rotation government with 1.5 to 2 year terms for each leader.  This has been a fascinating exercise in political negotiations.  Yamina is a  right-wing religious party, heavily supported by settlers and other right wing groups.  Yamina's natural coalition partners would be Likud and the Religious Zionist party.  But the party is also more modern and nationlist than the ultra-religious parties that have been the common law spouses of Netanyahu for the past several years.  Unlike the ultra-religious, Yamina is supportive of strong secular education, military service, growth in science and technology  and other areas in which they could find common ground with Yesh Atid. 

This has created some internal division within Yamina.  The second in command, Ayelet Shaked, is a relentless idealogue.  She wants to defang the Israeli Supreme Court (as she  describes it) with plans to limit standing rules, change the judicial appointment process, pass a law that would allow the Knesset by a simple majority to overrule decisions of the court and take other steps to increase the power of the government at the expense of the courts.  She has insisted on being given the Justice  Ministry as part of any coalition agreement. But Lapid and the other prospective coalition partners including Labour, Meretz, Blue and White, and perhaps even Lieberman's party Yisrael Beitenu, all oppose all of these initiatives.  They are all strongly opposed to giving Shaked this ministry.

In my view, finding a way to placate Shaked while not going too far to alienate the  rest of the potential coalition partners will be one of the biggest challenges for Lapid if a government is to be formed.  I am still not entirely convinced that it can be done but I think they now have a better than 50% chance of putting a government in place within the next month or so.  Bennett and Shaked will probably realize that they don't have too many alternatives at this point.  Another election would likely be a disaster for Yamina - as its constituency would probably move right to the Religious Zionist party or left to Likud  or another party.  Plus, this may be  a once in a lifetime chance for Bennett to hold a term as Israel's Prime Minister while having won only 7 seats in a 120 seat parliament.  

If an arrangement can be reached, I do believe that we are likely to see a rocky but stable government which will have a very good chance at making it through the next four years.  It is true that everything  is unpredictable in Israel.  At the same time, I do think that Bennett and Lapid are committed to the idea that if they negotiate a deal, they will stick to it and carry it through.  This directly contrasts with Netanyahu, who clearly had no intention of honouring his deal with Gantz from the outset.  

We will know over the course of the coming month.  If a government cannot be formed, we will be facing a fifth consecutive election.  There is little reason, at this point, to think that a fifth election could provide something that none of the previous four have generated - a workable government.

Tragedy At Meron:

I am not going to write a great deal about the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron last Thursday at which 45 people died but I do have a few comments.  Meron is essentially an ultra-religious  pilgimmage site at which tens of thousands of worshippers gather every year to  pray at the grave of the second century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) to whom authorship of the Zohar has been attributed by many Orthodox Jews.  The site has been a political football for many years in Israel as it has seen the annual arrival of an ever growing number of pilgrims.  Different ultra-religious denominations have insisted on control of the site and have prevented the State from taking responsibility and turning it into a National Religious Site (which would include the active responsibility for ensuring the safety  standards, occupancy levels etc., of the site).  

Last Thursday, by some estimates, more than 100,000 people arrived at a site that is deemed safe for up to 10,000.  Ministers in the current Likud government, at the behest of  their ultra-religious coalition partners, insisted on limiting the State's ability to cap attendance and to oversee the event.  The resulting overcrowding and chaos led to these tragic deaths.

In the aftermath, everyone has pointed the finger at everyone else.  The ultra-religious have blamed the Supreme Court of Israel for refusing to turn the site into a National Religious Site (something the ultra-religious vehemently opposed).  The government ministers have blamed the police, the courts and others.  The sponsoring rabbis have blamed the "shortcomings of the people of Israel."  One influential ultra-religious Rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky said yesterday that the disaster was a "decree from Heaven" and that it could only be prevented by  women observing the laws of modesty more strictly.  Just as an aside, the Meron disaster was pretty much a men-only event.  So it would be quite a head scratcher for anyone to draw this causal connection.  But I digress.

Ultimately, I can only say that it was a horrible event and I offer my sincere condolences to all  of the affected families and my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery for all those who were injured.  I also hope that the government will institute a proper commission of inquiry, take appropriate steps to ensure that it does not happen again and, in general, review procedures for other sites that attract large crowds, including the Kotel and the har habayit/ Dome of the Rock.

Weather and Covid-19

It is very hot here.  Summer has arrived, though not officially.  The forecast for the next few weeks is between 28 and 30 and sunny with few if any clouds to be seen anywhere.  A  very high percentage of the population has been vaccinated.  Restaurants, concert halls, and just about everything else have reopened and there is a real sense of normalcy.  I am concerned that it may be a facade.  Considering the rapid spread of so many  mutations of Covid-19 across the world, it may well be that one or more variants will arrive in Israel that will send us back to a full closure.  I hope that this will not be the case but flights are being opened rapidly and it only takes one infected passenger to begin another round of a worldwide pandamic as we know from the Chinese-Italian experience.

Shavuot

Meanwhile, next week is Shavuot.  I usually use Tori Avey's Blintz recipe or a slight variation of it  - which seems close enough to the blintzes that my grandmother used  to make and passed along  to my mother (who hasn't made them in quite a while I think).  I might also make a cheesecake even though I am not a huge fan.  One of our  shul friends has an incredible recipe (I don't have it handy to publicize here).  In keeping with the dairy theme of Shavuot, perhaps an eggplant parmesan will also make an appearance.  

Shavuot is not only about eating dairy food. There is a tradition of studying all  night  on Erev Shavuot (which will be Saturday night, May 15th, 2021).  We  still have to decide where we will participate this year.  My favourite Shavuot events were years ago at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto.  The shul used a three-part model.  First there would be a study session  for about 45 minutes.  Each session would be led by someone different. After that, there would be a musical session with 20-30 minutes of singing.  Then it would be time for a food break for about 15-20 minutes.  Each break would feature different  food.  Repeat this schedule all night - starting at about 10 p.m. and running until 5 a.m. - and then hold an early morning Shavuot service.   We haven't found something equivalent in Israel though we have attended study sessions at a range of different places including our shul in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar.  Here is the Hebrew version of the site.

That's about it for now.  I wish everyone the best of health and hope that the health situation will soon improve across the world.  I'll probably write again soon.  With any luck, by the time of my next blog, Israel will be on its way to a new, stable government.





Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Another Election Update: Complete Craziness Here - and Other News

With less than one week to go for Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a  government, things are getting completely crazy here politically.  Netanyahu's chances of forming a government seem to be slipping away.  But not without a major struggle.  Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops to try to retain power.

It seems like he has a string of increasingly radical moves lined up - right up until the last minute next week when he will either succeed in forming a government with his final moves (whatever they might be) or one of the other two alternatives will win out - either a new replacement government or a fifth consecutive election.

Last week, Netanyahu started to see that his chances of forming a 61 seat coalition were looking grim.  He is trying to pull together two far right wing parties - Yamina and the Religious Zionist party and mix those parties with two ultra-Orthodox parties - and then have that whole package supported by the 5 seats of an Islamic Fundamentalist Arab party.  The Religious Zionist party has balked at the idea and has held a number of press conferences at which they have spewed anti-Arab rhetoric  and stated that they will not enter a government that is supported in any way, shape or form by any of the  Arab  parties.  Meanwhile, the Arab party, Ra'am, has naturally called on Bibi to reign in the rhetoric of his racist cohorts if he is really hoping to get  Ra'am support.

So Bibi came up with a new plan.  He decided he would call for a two track election system with a separate election for the position of Prime Minister  Obviously, this is an attempt to create a U.S. style President with separate executive powers and to  circumvent  Israel's current system.  As any constitutional student would realize, it doesn't mesh at all with a Parliamentary democracy.  It is a different governing system.  So, essentially, Bibi's position is - "if I can't win - we have to change the system so that I can."  One would have thought that this would be dismissed out  of hand, especially since it was tried and failed in Israel in the past.  But since Bibi only needs 61 votes to  get a proposal like this passed, he is pushing it as hard as he can.

Some of the actual changes that have been proposed are even more ridiculous.  The "Prime Minister" could be elected with only 40% of the vote.  He would then instantly have all of the powers of a sitting Prime Minister rather than an interim one - even if he could not cobble together 61 seats.  Further, under Bibi's plan (as presented by Aryeh Deri, the former fraud convict and current leader of the Ultra-Religious Shas party), the winning Prime Minister would instantly get 12 additional seats in the Knesset as a bonus for winning the 40%.  Taking everything into account, this is essentially a plan that one might see presented by Putin or Erdogan.  The problem is that Bibi only needs a bare majority to pass the plan and the issue is whether he can pay off or horse trade with enough members to get this proposal through.  So far, the leader of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, has said he would not support it but the possibility of Bennett changing his mind cannot be ruled out.

Seeing that his "direct election" plan did  not seem to be working out, Bibi upped the stakes.  Earlier today, he proposed that a Bibi loyalist, Ofir Akunis, be named to be the Justice Minister, a position that has been sitting vacant since the government collapsed (leading to the election).  Contrary to Parliamentary and cabinet procedure, he did not provide advance notice of intention to put forward a candidate.  Contrary to the current coalition deal with the Blue and White party, which is in place until a government is formed, he presented a Likud candidate instead of a Blue and White candidate (as required by the coalition deal).  And contrary to the Supreme Court's stated guidelines, he did not recuse himself from being involved in the appointment of a Justice Minister while he is in the midst of an ongoing trial.  

The Attorney General noted that this was an illegal nomination, an illegal vote and an illegal procedure.  Bibi effectively stated that he didn't care and demanded that a vote be held.  The vote was a tie which meant  that he could not proceed.  In lightning speed, the matter arrived at the Supreme Court  of Israel by the evening and will be heard  in greater detail tomorrow and perhaps even shown on live TV.  The Supreme Court does not want to wade into political decisions but Bibi's actions, by all counts, are a clear attack on the rule of law.  Not that he or his party are strangers to this type of attack.  After the last election, one of Bibi's henchmen, Yuli Edelstein, locked up the Knesset to avoid a vote which would have replaced the speaker of the house.  Even then, the Supreme Court was reluctant to interfere.  Some commentators have suggested that this is all part of a plan by Bibi to get the Supreme Court to rule against him so that he can run a populist campaign against the Supreme Court in the next election.  Does that sound familiar to anyone across the ocean? *Late Addendum - added at 1 p.m.  Israel time on April 28, 2021 - Netanyahu has now agreed to back off and allow Blue and White to continue to hold the Justice Minister position - his announcement came just three hours before the Supreme Court was scheduled to being the hearing.

Given the manner in which Bibi has been escalating his tactics, it is hard to predict what he  might try between now and May  4, 2021.  This week, he offered  to allow either Gideon Saar (leader of the New Hope Party and one of the most virulent anti-Bibi Knesset members) or Naftali Bennett (leader of Yamina) to go first in a two-year coalition deal.  His condition is that he would stay in the  Prime Minister's house and be called the "alternate Prime Minister" while some else  "officially" fills the role.  We don't know what else he has requested as part of these offers but his demands are bound to be significant.  Neither Bennett nor Saar have rejected the proposals outright but even if Bennett were to agree, Netanyahu could still be short of the 61 that he needs.

So all in all, it is fair to say that things are extremely volatile, unpredictable and, definitely, new and unique, even for Israeli politics.  That being said, it seems likely that things will go in one of three directions by May 4th.  If Bibi can come up with the right mix of promises, threats, payoffs, carrots and sticks, he might still form a government by the deadline.  I don't think we can rule it out yet.  It seems that he will need to convince Gideon  Saar or some of his New Hope party members to bend and join Netanyahu.  That would cause Bennett to join as well and would create a government.  But Saar has sworn up and down, over and  over, that  he wouldn't join Bibi.  So it will take quite a lot.  I think this is still in the 40% range, perhaps now a bit less.

On the other hand, Bennett, Saar and Lapid are actively negotiating to try and form an alternate "unity government" made  up of parties across the political spectrum.   They have many challenges, which is inevitable when one tries to combine such a disparate range of political philosophies.  From the far left, egalitarian, anti-nationalist Meretz party to the far right, extremely nationalist, religious Yamina party, held together by centrist Lapid of the Yesh Atid party.  And  this coalition might only have 57 seats unless they can recruit an Arab party or an ultra religious party.  It looks like a tall order to get to 61.  I'm still not convinced that the chance of this group forming a government is higher than 30 to 35%.  

And if you do the math, that leaves us with a 25-30% chance of another election, at least according to this prognosticator.  But we should know by May 4th or  shortly thereafter.  If it is to be a fifth election, it may be in August or September.  Perhaps by then, a greater number of Israelis living abroad will be  able to travel to Israel to participate in the vote.  For the last election, ballot stations were actually set up in the  Ben Gurion airport so that Israelis could arrive at the airport and vote before heading  off to a  quarantine.

Covid Update

As you probably know, things have been opening up everywhere here based on the use of a vaccination certificate system.  Concert venues, inside and  outside, restaurants, malls, sports events - everything is almost back to normal, for those with Green Certificates, at least.  But is it just a lull?  We are hearing of significant challenges now coming from the "Indian Variant" which may be impervious to the Pfizer  vaccine.  If a variant arrives in Israel that can  beat the vaccine, we may wind up heading back to square one - after a period of ostensible normalcy.  So far, Israel is still pushing ahead with plans to allow for international tourism (for vaccinated tourists only of  course), a resumption of the Birthright  Program and an expansion of flights, outbound and incoming.  But we really can't  say how long this "golden period" will actually last.  Hopefully, in Israel and the rest of the world, the vaccine will help turn things around in a lasting way.

Heat Wave and Upcoming  Holidays

As you might have seen - we reached temperatures of more than 40C last  week - more than 100F and it was only April.  Fortunately, things have cooled off somewhat and the weather is actually quite  nice now.  People are arranging their Lag B'Omer bonfires for Thursday night and planning their all night study sessions for the holiday of Shavuot which is 17 days after Lag Ba'Omer.  We are picking out our best Blintz and Cheesecake recipes and figuring out how we will best observe the Chag.  We may have to visit a winery or two between now and then to find some nice White or Rose wines that could best accompany our  anticipated dairy bonanza.

Board  Games

I don't mention it that  often  in this  blog - but as many of you might know, I have a hobby of collecting, teaching and playing a wide range of board games.  One of my future projects (hopefully sooner rather than later) is to design one myself.  These are complex strategy games - "Euro games" as they are often  called that include game categories such as worker  placement, territory control, engine building, and economic decision making.  They are rarely winner  take  all games but are won by the player who has amassed the highest point total.   Given that I have been here for such a long stint, I have found a few reliable partners - who are quickly becoming equally addicted.  Recently we have managed to play three fantastic games - Viticulture (which is all about developing and  running your  own winery), Brass Birmingham (an economic  game  set  in 19th century England) and Barrage (a  worker placement/economic game in which players build dams and try to control water  flow and develop energy).  These are all terrific games - so if anyone is looking for something fun to do when spending extra time at home - these games will all give your brain quite a workout.  Israel has a Facebook group called "Unbored  with Board Games" which has more than 10,000 members - who trade tips about different games, buy and  sell used games and arrange meet ups with each other.  So if you thought  board game playing was now a dead or non-existent past time - I think these numbers strongly suggest otherwise.  Board game playing is especially common among Shabbat observant families since most of these games can be played on a Saturday afternoon without violating any of the rules of Shabbat.  

That's about it for  now - waiting for the political fireworks here in Israel over the next  week or  so and wishing everyone the best of health!

 









Sunday, April 4, 2021

Post Passover April 2021 - Election Process, Bibi's Trial and Whatever Else...

Here in Israel, Pesach (Passover) came to an end last night, as Shabbat ended - at about 7:35 p.m.  After that, Israelis across the country headed out to Mimouna celebrations - wherever they could find some friends  of Moroccan heritage.  Moroccan Jews mark the end of Pesach with a party at which they eat lots of sweets and mufletta (a fried dough pastry) covered with honey or nutella.  This is not an evening for those on a low-sugar diet.   Moroccans generally offer an "open invitation" to all those who want to show up and come and join them.  I have never figured out how they are able to get everything ready so quickly - change over the dishes, get the kitchen ready etc., in time for a mimouna that starts so quickly after Pesach.  But we have attended a few over the years and they are lots of fun.  We  spent our evening putting away our Pesach dishes and were not able to get to a mimouna this year.

Last year, in Israel, there were no mimouna celebrations because of Covid-19.  This year, with so many people vaccinated and the infection numbers quickly dropping, there were big parties all over the country.  The same can be said for Pesach seders.  This year, many Israelis (us included) were able to attend traditional style seders with 15-20 people or more, whereas last year it was just immediate family members who live at the same address.  Hopefully, the Israeli experience is a sign that by next year things in Canada, the U.S. and other parts of the world will be back to some semblance of normal.

Now that Pesach is over, we have lots of interesting, significant and meaningful events coming up.

On the political side - we have two main events.

Monday April 5, 2021 will officially mark the start of the evidence portion of Netanyahu's trial.  There are over 300 witnesses and some of the witnesses will take a week or two, between examination-in chief and  cross-examination.  The trial is expected to last between 2 and 3 years assuming that it is not somehow resolved before it is completed.  The court will sit all day, three days a week, to hear the  evidence.  Netanyahu has sought permission to be absent from the court room at times and the court has agreed.  I'm not going to spell out all of the details as I have reviewed the charges that Netanyahu is facing in previous posts.  For example, in this post,  I covered come of the issues.  It remains my view that the trial will never actually reach a contested verdict.  One possibility is that Netanyahu will be able to cobble together an election victory at some point - and pass a retroactive immunity bill to end his legal problems.  Many of the would-be supporters of a new Netanyahu government on the right of the political spectrum are willing to support this approach.  As of now, however, Bibi does not have the votes for this.  

The other possibility is that if the trial is proceeding - and things are not looking good - Netanyahu will cut some sort of deal either involving a plea bargain, a pardon or a blend of a political and legal deal.  If, on the other hand, the prosecution's case somehow falls apart, perhaps because key witnesses pass away (or disappear), there is also a possibility that the prosecution could drop the case.  Of course Netanyahu insists that the latter option is what will happen, but I really doubt it.  No matter what transpires, it should make for fascinating political and legal theatre and generate quite a bit of interesting press coverage, complete with round-the-clock analysis.  As a lawyer, I am about as interested in this legal proceeding as any other that I can recall (other than some of my own great cases, of course).

Election Update

Tomorrow is also a very important day in Israel for dealing with the current election deadlock.

As you may know, Israel is a parliamentary democracy, modelled after England or Canada.  The official head of state, ceremonially,  is the President, who fills the role of the Monarch in Britain or the Governor General in Canada.  In other words, the President has very little actual power and is mostly a figurehead.

However, one of the key roles of the president takes place after every election.  (President Rivlin  has been working double or triple time the past few  years).  The President is taked with the role of asking one of the political parties, traditionally the party with the plurality of Knesset seats or the party that has the best chance of being able to build a coaltion with 61 seats - to try and form a government.  The leader of that party is then given 30 days to try and form a coaltion.  

So tomorrow, each party will come to the President's residence to meet with the President and tell him who they plan to recommend to form the government.  13 different parties were elected in the March 2021 elections, each of which attained more than 3.25% of the vote.  So starting at 8 a.m., President Rivlin will meet with 13 different representatives and they will all tell him what they intend to do and who they intend to recommend.  Or maybe they won't really but they have to recommend someone.

It sounds like tonight is going to be a long night of negotiations, promises, political calculations and perhaps some trickery and slight of hand as well.  Maybe some magic spells will also be cast along with some special blessings appealing to the Almighty.  By the time the sun rises in the morning, or perhaps a few hours after that (allowing for time for morning prayers for some), decisions will have been made and the parade will begin.

As of now, news reports indicate that no leader will receive 61 votes of support.  Netanyahu is likely to get 52 which includes his party (Likud) (30), the two ultra-orthodox parties (Shas and UTJ)(16) and the far right party - RJ the Religious Zionists (6).  If he could convince Bennett and the Yamina party to join him - he could get to 58 but that seems unlikely right now.  He is also trying to gain the vote of the Arab Islamic party Ra'am, which has 4 seats to offer. 

The other primary suitor is the Yesh Atid party led by Lapid.  As  of now, Lapid's party is likely to get 43 recommendations - which include Yesh Atid (17), Labour  (7), Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman's secular nationalist party) (7), left wing Meretz (6), and perhaps the Joint List (Arab secular nationlist) (6).  There is a chance that the centrist Blue  and White leader Benny Gantz could recommend Lapid, which could add 8 more and bring Lapid to 51.   However, to this point, Gantz has stated that he will only support Lapid if he thinks that Lapid can form a government.

That leaves two parties - the right wing religious party Yamina (7) ("The Right") and the right wing  New Hope party (a break off from the Likud) with 6.  Naftali Bennett, the leader of Yamina, is insisting that he should be the Prime Minister.  He says that he is the only one who can form a right wing government that is an alterntive to the Likud.  He says he will not join Lapid because  Lapid is too far left.  So he has decided to recommend himself, barring some  kind of last minute deal.   That certainly throws a loop into things but it doesn't seem to get everyone any closer to a deal.

The other party is New Hope led by Gideon Saar.  Saar  says he will not recommend Netanyahu under any circumstances.  Although many of Saar's policies are similar to Bibi's, if not further right, he has stated several times (including this afternoon) that he is determined to eliminate corruption in politics and restore honour to political office in Israel.  That certainly sounds like a tall order to me....

Saar still has not announced who he will support but he stated before the election that he will not recommend Lapid.  So he must now decide between recommending Bennett in which case Bennett would have 13, recommending Lapid in which case Lapid would have as many as 57 or recommending himself (which can't be ruled out as a possibility).  Saying nothing is apparently not an option.

If Saar decides to go against one of his pre-election promises and opts to recommend Lapid, Lapid would either have 49 or 57 depending on whether Gantz also recommends Lapid.  With 57, Lapid would then have 30 days to try and form a government by finding a few more Knesset members or cutting some kind of deal, perhaps with one of the two ultra-religious parties.

If Saar recommends himself or Bennett, the President will almost certainly give Bibi the first chance to form a government.  Bibi, with his 52, will need to try and find 9 more seats.  Even if he were be able to convince Bennett to join him (they have been arch rivals for a number of years  now and Bennett is particularly despised by Bibi's wife, Sara), that would still only get Bibi to 59.  If Bibi fails to form a government, the President could give  Lapid a chance or the Knesset could dissolve and another election could be called.

Behind the scenes - there are two sets of negotiations going on.

Bibi is making all sorts of  promises to try and entice Bennett to join his coalition.  But even if he succeeds he will still only have 59 and he will need to find some defectors or he will have to rely on the support of the Ra'am party.  Some members of Bibi's party have started to speak about the possibility of Likud relying on Ra'am and have insisted that it is a non-starter. The far right RZ party has said that it will not join that coalition under any circumstances.  So Bibi will have to convince  some others to defect.  Perhaps he is hoping to break up Saar's party (like what he did to Blue and White the last time around) or perhaps he is hoping that he can entice Gantz to join him again.  As I have said previously, one can never count Bibi out but he is facing quite an uphill battle.

The other negotiations are taking place between Saar, Bennett and Lapid.  Saar and Bennett are essentially saying that together they have 13 seats (which is still less than Lapid's 17).  They are asking that Lapid agree to a rotation government in which they would share power, with Bennett as Prime Minister for half of the time and Lapid the other half.    For the parties to the left  of Lapid, including Meretz, the Labour party and the Arab Joint List, this is not very popular.  These parties do not want to replace Bibi, the right wing Likud leader, with someone who is even more right wing.  On the other side, members of Saar's party and of Bennett's do not want Lapid as the Prime Minister since they feel he is too far to the left.  If you add all of this up, it comes to 63.  However, that would be a bed full of awfully strange bedmates.  A left wing secular Arab party, a left wing secular mixed party (Meretz), a right wing religious nationalist party (Yamina) all sharing the same blanket.  The only thing they can all agree on is that they all want to kick Bibi out of the bed.

One possibility is that Saar and Bennett will try to woo the ultra-religious parties with their 16 seats to leave the Bibi camp and join them - perhaps instead of the Joint List and Meretz.  Would Lapid go along with this? Unclear.  For now, the Shas party says that it will refuse and it has sworn allegiance to Bibi.  The other party, UTJ, seems to be starting to waver.  The ultra religious parties do not want to be left out in the cold and will, at the last minute, do whatever it takes to avert that possible disaster.

I think that is about all I can say for now about what is going to happen.  How do I handicap all of this?  Okay - let's go with 40% that Bibi manages to come up with some kind of deal by finding some defectors, working over Gantz, or breaking up Saar's party and/or by relying on the Ra'am party.  Next, let's say 35% that we have another election by September or October.  Finally, that leaves a 25% chance that some kind of  alternate government can be strung together by Lapid, Bennett and  Saar.

You might say that I am being  fairly non-commital.  Fair enough.  But that is the current  state of Israeli politics.  I think this is a realistic assesssment of what we are likely to see. 

Other Events and Commemorations

Wednesday night  is Erev Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah.  The day of Rememberance of the Holocaust and Heroism.  It will be 82 years since the start the second World War and 80 years  since the Nazis made the decision to begin operating death  camps to ramp up their systematic mass murder of the Jews of Europe.  Memorial events will be held across the country.  TV stations will show Holocaust themed  movies and documentaries all night and all day long (on Thursday) and a two minute long siren will blare across the country during which traffic across the country will come to a stand still.  Restaurants will be closed across the country on Wednesday evening as people walk to near by community commemorations.

The following week, April 14th is Israel's Rememberance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.  And April 15th will be Israel Independence Day marking Israel's 73rd birthday.  I have written about both of these days in previous blogs.

I am not sure yet how  all of these events will be marked across the country as we are still easing out of the Covid-19 restrictions but I am certain that there will be all sorts of commemortations and festivities respectively.

As Pesach ends, the weather starts to warm up in Israel and beach season arrives.  In fact, we are expecting some very hot weather this week with a cool down by the end  of the week.   A bit of a taste of things to come perhaps.  By May, it will be quite hot here.  As the vaccine continues to work, I am quite sure that the beaches will be overcrowded this year, even if tourists won't yet be  able to join our Israeli beach goers.  Let's hope that by next year that, too, will change  back to some semblance  of normal.

Wishing  everyone the  best of health and hoping that you will all have the chance to come and visit soon!






Thursday, March 25, 2021

Israel Post Election Analysis March 2021: Results and Predictions

With more than 98% of  ballots counted, the results from the Israeli election of March 23, 2021 are almost final.  I am going to take a stab at analyzing the results and providing an update about the  possible direction things may take in the coming weeks.  I should note that the final results are due to be announced at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Israel time, but most commentators have indicated that few changes are expected.  Apparently the ballots have actually been tabulated but  the "official" statement has not yet been released.

On Wednesday night, Israelis tuned in to the news at 10 p.m. to hear the results of "exit polls" which, in Israel, are usually fairly close to the final results.  Three different TV stations announced their respective projections.  In two out of the three releases, Bibi was projected to have a 61 seat, bare majority - and perhaps, escape with a win.  But over the course of the evening, the projections were adjusted and the real results started coming in.  Bibi's bloc went down to 59 and it has remained there until now.

So here is where we are at.  This is Bibi's "bloc" - the parties that have pledged their allegiance to him and are willing to form a government under his leadership:

Likud (Netanyahu (Bibi)'s party): 30; 
Shas (Ultra Orthodox Sephardi) 9;
United Torah Judaism (Ultra Orthodox Ashkenazi) 7; 
Religious Zionist (Extreme Right Nationalist): 6

As you can see, this adds up to 52.  There are 120 seats in the Knesset so a coaltion must get to 61 to form a government.  Prior to the election, most commentators were predicting that the missing piece to this puzzle would be the "Yamina" ("The Right") party led by Naftali Bennett.  If the Yamina Party were to have received 9 or more, it would have been able to join this coalition and put the Likud over the top to form the government.

Yamina is generally a very right wing party, to the right of Likud.  Their platform includes an overhaul  of the justice system to allow the Knesset to override decisions of the Supreme Court, increased privatization of schools and  healthcare, annexation of the occupied territories  and reduction of taxes.  They  are quite comfortable with the coalition listed above but there are few, if any, other Knesset members willing to join this coalition and put it over 61.

At the same time, the leader of the Yamina party, Bennett, has been touting himself as a potential Prime Minister, able to bring together a wider tent than the Likud.  Yamina was hoping to get between 15 and 20 seats but wound up with 7.  During the campaign, Bennett repeatedly called for a leadership change though he stopped  short of saying that  he would refuse to sit in a Netanyahu government.  Along the way, Bennett stated that he would absolutely not  sit in a government led  by Yesh Atid (Lapid) and he would not join any government with the Arab  Joint List or even with Meretz.  So, he limited himself a great deal but most commentators expected that he would join his natural coalition partners, the right wing bloc if this would lead to the formation of a government.

On the other side of the ledger, here is what we have:

Yesh Atid (Lapid) (Centrist or perhaps centre/left) - 17
Blue and White (Gantz) (Centrist or perhaps centre/right) 8
Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman) (Secular, right wing) 7
Labour (Michaeli) (left) 7
New Hope (Saar) (Right leaning, similar to Likud, but anti-Bibi) 6
Meretz (Horowitz) (Far Left, secularist) 6

This all adds up to 51, which is still a long way from the  61 required to form a government.

There are two other parties - the Arab Joint  List (Mostly secular, Arab) with 6 and the Ra'am Party (Religious fundamentalist Arab) (4).  These parties could be enough to join either faction and put that  group over the  required 61  but  that would be very unpopular, politically, in many Israeli circles.

Possible Directions - Can a Government Be Formed?

As many of you know, I am not a huge soccer (football) fan.  One of the reasons is the high likelihood of a tie.  No  sports event, that I can think of, is less satisfying than  watching two teams play to a 0-0 tie and then just leave the field and call it a day.  I much prefer hockey playoffs - where the teams play "sudden death" and keep playing, for as long as it takes, until someone scores.

Unfortunately, here in Israel, we seem stuck in a soccer-like tie with no effective tie-breaker.  After four consecutive elections, we do not have a clear result and we are  unlikely to have a  stable government any time soon.

I don't take too much  joy in stating that my blog predictions from March 11, 2021  were reasonably accurate and pretty much assessed the situation that we now have.  As we sit here now, Bibi and the Likud  party have four options for forming a government but they are all low percentage options from where we sit currently:

1.  Negotiate a deal with anther party or two:  One option for Bibi is to be able to convince one of the right or left centre "anti-Bibi" parties to join his government.  He could  offer all kinds of incentives and financial rewards, cabinet posts etc.,  In particular, he may try to convince the New Hope party under Saar, the Labour party (Michaeli) or the Blue and White party (Gantz) to join his coalition.  These other parties have all insisted that they will not join a Bibi-led government.  Last time around, Gantz gave in and made a deal.  Will he do it again?  It turned out very badly for Gantz.  Will Saar make a deal?  He has stated repeatedly that he won't.  Or perhaps Labour?  Labour could exact a very high  price from Bibi though they would have to compromise their principles.  I don't think we can rule this possibility out entirely.  Bibi is very talented and convincing and he is willing to promise just about anything.  The problem, though, is that the coalition he would be heading would be a very right wing leaning government.  He would really have to try and square a circle.  Overall, I think this is  quite a low percentage option.

2. Convince a few individual Knesset Members to "cross the aisle."
In Bibi's post-election speech on Wednesday night, he suggested that this (or option 1) would be his main plan.  He implored all of those members of the Knesset  who "agree with his agenda and his achievements" to join his coalition.  He will try to convince members of the New Hope Party, the Blue and White  Party or  perhaps even Yesh Atid to join his right wing coalition and put the bloc over 61.  Once again, I don't think we can rule this out entirely but I think it is going to be quite an uphill battle for Bibi.

3.  An Explicit or Tacit Coalition with Ra'am or the Joint List (Arab Parties)
Over the course of the campaign, Bibi knew that there was a chance that this is where things would wind up.  So he began courting one of the two Arab parties - the Islamist Ra'am party - to  consider supporting his coalition in exchange for potential support for some of the things Ra'am might want.  This is incredibly cynical politics by Bibi who has repeatedly undermined the legitimacy of the Arab  parties in previous elections, fearing that they could join the left and overturn his leadership.  If it was just the Likud party, this may have worked.  But the  Likud led bloc has  teamed up with a group of  parties that are much further right than the Likud including the anti-Arab, far right nationalist party the "Religious Zionist Party."  In short, Bibi's coalition partners, or at least some of them, are absolutely opposed to a coalition that is dependent on the support of a radical Islamist Arab party.  So this is still possible but seems unlikely.

4.  Bibi Departure
Right now, this does not seem to be very likely.  However, if Bibi were to resign, his Likud party could almost certainly form a government very quickly with a number of the different  parties on the "anti-Bibi" side of the ledger.  Bibi's criminal  trial is scheduled to resume on April 4, 2021.  If no government is formed and the trial begins to progress, there may well be a situation in which Bibi negotiates some  type of plea-bargain or political deal to end his trial in exchange for his resignation and  immunity.  I think this is a longer range possibility but it may be something that takes place before a fifth election in September or October.

Now on the other side of the ledger, the question is, can the "anti-Bibi" forces form a government or will we have another round of elections.  Here are the options:

1. Lapid-Led Coalition:

This would seem to be the best possibility, in an objective sense.  After all, Yesh Atid has 17 seats, the second highest number after Bibi and leads a group that adds up to 51 without the Joint List or 57 with the Joint List.  The problem here is that Lapid does not seem to have the ability to attract 10 more Knesset members to his  coalition.  One possibility would be a coalition with all 10 Arab Knesset members, including the Joint List and the 4-seat Ra'am party.  I don't think some of the right-Centre bloc  members will agree to this.  In particular, some members of the Blue and White party and some from the New Hope party may not agree.  So this seems unlikely, overall.

2.  Coalition Led by Bennett, Saar or Gantz

This is another possibility that is being  floated by commentators.  The idea is that one of these three leaders would have a better chance of building support among the centre and the centre-right than Lapid.  In particular, one of these three might be able to attract the United Torah Judaism party and/or Shas to join the coalition.   It sounds possible but I'm not convinced  it is going to happen.  Bennett seems  to me to be too far to the right for  the anti-Bibi bloc and this group would cover such a wide spread across the political spectrum that it is hard to imagine that they could all agree on anything.  

3.   Elections Round 5

As of right now, this looks like the most likely scenario.  What  will change between now and round 5?  Bibi will be deep into his trial, Covid-19 will be a thing of the past (in Israel at least) and the public will be even more sick of the idea of being dragged to a fifth  consecutive election.  In short, I do think that the  situation, politically, will become somewhat worse for Bibi if Israel goes to a  fifth election and, at some point, there will be calls for him to resign from within his party.  I think that many in the "anti-Bibi" bloc are banking on this as the most promising scenario.  I should note that, according to the deal that was signed into law during the last government, if no new stable government is formed by November 2021 and things are still up in the air, Gantz will officially become the Prime Minister in November of the interim caretaker government.  For Gantz and the Blue and White party, that might be worth waiting for.

Winners and Losers and Closing Comments:

I thought it might be worthwhile to add a few additional comments about winners and losers from this election and why.

In the winners category, it is fair to say that both Meretz and Labour are big winners  They both bounced up in numbers and had been considered by some forecasters to be on the verge of being ousted from the Knesset.  The left is still alive in Israel.  

The Blue and White party was also a big winner with 8 seats.  Gantz had entered a disastrous deal with Bibi which was criticized in many quarters.   But the Israeli public apparently felt that he had done so in the interest of helping the country out of a political crisis so it rewarded him with 8 seats.  

There were two other big winners.   The Religious Zionist party made it into the Knesset for the first time.  This collection of misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic far-right extremists picked up 6 seats.  Very few of the other parties  are interested in joining a coalition with this motley group.  The very fact that this party will sit in the Knesset is frightening to many inside Israel and worldwide.  

The  other big winner was the Ra'am party, the Arab Islamist party that splintered away from the Joint List.  Ra'am is now trying to use its new-found political clout  to influence the election results and serve as a king maker.  It remains to be seen whether Ra'am will be able to do that but the fact that it is even a possibility is a huge victory for Ra'am.

On the losers side of the ledger, it might be a bit early to say.  The New Hope party was very disappointed with only 6 seats.   Out of the gate, this party was hoping to get 15-20 and offer a real alternative to the Likud party.  That simply did  not happen.

Yamina was also strongly rebuked with only 7 seats.  Bennett was hoping to muster between 15 and 20 and thought he was on track to be a real alternative to Bibi.  He may still be able to work something out in his favour as discussed above, but he can't be happy with only 7 seats.

Bibi has to be disappointed as well.  With a high percentage of Israelis vaccinated and peace deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, Bibi thought that the timing of this election, just as everything was  reopening in Israel, would give him the best chance of winning the  election with a bloc of between 62 and 67.  But his bloc  underperformed dramatically and left  him in a very tenuous situation.  

The other  big loser, at this point, is the Israeli public.  We are faced with the very likely prospect of a fifth consecutive election, a caretaker government, no budget (there was no budget in 2020 and there is no budget for 2021) and no likelihood of a positive change  anytime soon.   Moreover, we now have two new extremist parties in the Knesset, the Religious Zionist party and the  Arab Ra'am party, both of which are very problematic for many people.

Despite all of that, we are ready to change our clocks and spring ahead tonight so that we can welcome the imminent arrival of the Pesach holiday.  A large number of Israelis have been vaccinated, Covid-19 is in decline and the vaccine seems to be working.  So despite the political logjam, there is a great deal of positive news in Israel, certainly compared to where things sat one year ago.  

Perhaps, while Israelis across the country are  enjoying  their four coups of wine at the Seder and opening the door for  Eliyahu (Elijah the prophet), a wind of inspiration will arrive and will lead to some unexpectedly pleasant political resolution.  After all, we always conclude the Seder with the statement  "next year in Jerusalem."  Since Jerusalem is Israel's capital  and the home  of the Knesset, maybe what we really mean is "hopefully, by next year, there will be a government in Jerusalem."  Inshallah (if it is a government  supported by Ra'am or the Joint List).

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Peseach holiday.  Another update will follow  in a week or  two if there are some new developments to report.