Thoughts about the Israeli “snap elections”

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after a vote to dissolve the Israeli parliament, also known as the Knesset, in Jerusalem December 8, 2014

Israeli lawmakers voted last Wednesday to dissolve the parliament, paving the way for the snap elections, as the deadline has passed for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government coalition. The new elections were scheduled for September 17.

Sputnik discussed the dissolution of Israel’s legislative body with Dr Nir Boms, a research fellow from the Moshe Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University and the coordinator of the TAU Workshop on Israel and the Middle East.

Sputnik: The Knesset will be dissolved for the first time in Israel’s 71-year history as a state. How significant is that?

Nir Boms: This is significant not just in the context of the first time in 71 years; it’s significant mainly because of a particular political situation that we have. This has been an unprecedented political situation, and in some ways this is something that the law enables; but it’s probably not something that the legislators had in mind when the election laws were codified. The usual process was intended to be that if a given candidate — this is an example, from let’s say, from 2009 when Tzipi Livni received a mandate to form a government, and she was not able to do it; the mandate got back to the president that gave it to somebody else, Netanyahu in this case, that was able to do so. And it could have been a scenario that would be the same here, where the mandate gets back to the president who would give it to somebody else, let’s say Benny Gantz who, perhaps, is able to form a government. But now the Likud Party led the process that eventually dissolved the government; and therefore we have 50 new members of Knesset who were just elected, some of them had their opening speeches, and all of a sudden they now have to put their closing speeches and sum up a very long “tenure” in Parliament getting ready for elections. That’s why it is so different and in a way unprecedented; but broadly speaking, this is politics, and this is really about how the politics here will be formed. This is about the Netanyahu era that is still debated; and the main significance is that we still have not concluded this debate and that there’s a chance to have another political change here.

Sputnik: Netanyahu has blamed Lieberman for not wanting to join a coalition with the Likud Party in order to gain more seats in the Knesset in September’s early elections. Do you agree or disagree with the Israeli PM? Why?

Nir Boms: Politics is politics. You’re supposed to cater after your own interests. It may be that there is a particular political calculation made by Lieberman in order to increase his relative political power. Lieberman could have been a party to this coalition as it was expected; he was expected to be aligned with the prime minister and his party, but apparently he was not. He claims that this lack of alignment was beyond the particular issue that he argued which had to do with a law, not very important, regarding quotas for ultra-Orthodox recruitment to the IDF. And he claimed that Netanyahu had tried to weaken his party, to “kidnap” members of Knesset meaning asking them to join Likud; and I think that got him very upset. And he also may have thought that he would be able to gain power from that; but the important thing here is that, again, this is politics; it’s about whether the party politics trumps the national politics. And in some ways this is what happened; I think this gets many people here upset because broadly speaking, it could be that Netanyahu is right and it could be that Lieberman is right; but Netanyahu was supposed to form a government and he couldn’t, Lieberman is trying to say that he is principal although he may have did sort of the opposite of that. But irrespectively because of both of them now the entire country has to go through elections that are going to cost a significant amount of millions of shekels. That’s going to put the country into few additional months of lack of stability and lack of ability to move. We’re supposed to have the deal of the century, we’re supposed to have an economic plan, there are issues surrounding the country and, of course, it’s very difficult to move with them when you have elections.

Sputnik: So, you think that, snap elections have influenced and affected Israel’s economy, right?

Nir Boms: Snap elections or any elections will influence the economy in two ways — there are direct costs and indirect costs. The direct cost has to do with the cost of the process; the cost by itself is close to $100 million. But the indirect cost deals with loss of labour, even the one day that is codified as Election Day, and the fact that a lot of the systems are not really online, meaning everybody is working on elections rather than working on other things, has its own price. So, they are calculating the price and here it’s something like 5 billion shekels, it’s a very significant price.

Sputnik: Will the situation change dramatically if Lieberman’s party gains more seats in parliament? Why?

Nir Boms: Every dramatic change in politics can be dramatic, whether Lieberman gains more seats, whether Gantz gains more seats, whether Likud or Netanyahu ends up losing. There are plenty of chances for dramatic changes. Overall, in the last two decades, the broader political picture has not changed here. And actually it has not been dramatic. Even this election that has been to some degree dramatic with a new rival party gaining very significant seats and having a candidate for prime minister — I’m talking about Mr Gantz who had emerged and almost won — but if you’re looking broadly, we actually have something which is a very similar picture to what we had. The balance between right and left was not changed, and Lieberman is not necessarily going to change it. So let’s say that Lieberman will gain a couple more seats; if Lieberman will all of a sudden become the third largest party, then of course, it will be significant. But any other change will be significant, whether we will lose Labour completely, whether there is going to be an actual change of government because of these political developments; it could be that Netanyahu will be gone, that’s going to be very significant. So, like anything else, it’s open, it’s a democratic game; so, we’re not sure who is going to win.

Sputnik: Who might benefit from this suspended/uncertain ongoing political status before the new elections?

Nir Boms: There are winners and losers and to some degree we are not yet sure how they will be at the end of that, following the election. Lieberman is trying to pose himself as the winner, and he thinks that he will gain some seats; the opposition has now another chance to say: “Netanyahu failed another test, and, perhaps, we will be able to now win”. There is a chance to form additional coalition in politics, additional mergers; or it could be that other smaller parties — Moshe Kahlon, the Minister of Treasury, who has now joined Likud and all of a sudden he is now running with Likud; there are some people saying that that may eventually not be beneficial for him and his party. So, there can be more than one set of winners and losers; and a lot of this really depends on how the campaigns will work. Whether, for example, the Blue and White under Gantz and Lapid — and now they are again debating who is going to be the head of it — whether they will run a campaign that will bring them more seats or actually less seats because now it’s no longer new and, they perhaps, not so impressive. And it could be that Netanyahu feels that eventually he will emerge as winner and he will be able to gain 40 seats and will not need to form coalitions with too many parties, and will say: “you have to give me the power so that we will be able to have a solid coalition and we won’t have to rely on somebody like Lieberman to get the government to fall”. So, the people will win or lose; really, we will see them in September following the result of the political process.

Sputnik: What are your prognoses about the results of the snap elections?

Nir Boms: I’m not yet predicting these results. I think that, broadly speaking, as I’ve said that if we can learn something from the past is that we’ve seen that the broader political picture has not changed. Israel voted centre-right; it is very unlikely that it will vote left. Meretz will maintain its power in a way one of the last representatives of the left, Labour as well who has had its own issues. The remaining parties are really more centrist and centrist-right on the Jewish side; the Arab parties will have to debate again whether they will form another unity list, or whether they will continue the way they have done, and it could be that they will use this to increase their power and encourage the Arab voters to actually come and vote. So there are many potential developments that can occur, particularly because the lessons of the past elections are still very fresh. And I’d also say as a last thing, that if you ask the people of Israel, broadly speaking, if you listen to the discourse, the people see this picture but if you ask them whether it was needed, the vast majority of them will tell you “no, it wasn’t needed”. Although we can always expect better results and each has his or her own political preferences, but overall this entire period where we again don’t know what to do and we’re again not able to move as a country dealing with important issues and dealing only with politics; the majority of the people would just rather have something different.

The views and opinions expressed by Nir Boms are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.    

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