Even as the lead between the two largest parties keeps changing hands and as the right shows signs of life, Avigdor Lieberman and his secularists are still the likely kingmakers in Israel
For the first time ever, new polling published in the last 24 hours is showing the extreme right wing “Jewish Power” party headed by the controversial Itamar Ben-Gvir clearing the four seat minimum needed for representation in the Knesset. The poll, commissioned by right-leaning media outlets still shows the religious right coalition falling short of a governing 61-seat majority, gaining only 57 seats in the new Knesset. Center-left bloc get 40 seats plus eleven from the joint Arab list, while Avigdor Lieberman’s right-leaning secularist Israel Beitenu party remains stable with eleven seats.The two largest parties, the right-leaning Likud and the centrist Blue and White take 31 and 30 seats, respectively.
Regardless of whether Jewish Power clears the bar and whether Netanyahu’s Likud or Gantz’s Blue and White end up being the largest party in the next Knesset, the picture from all the polling is clear. The socio-economic and political (in terms of its attitudes towards the Palestinian Arabs) left in Israel is now the smallest it has ever been. In fact, this segment of the Israeli Jewish public opinion has shrunk to fringe status. Represented as it is by the newly formed Democratic Camp and the remnants of the old Labor parties, the hard left has only 10 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset and more tellingly ten out of 109 Jewish seats, giving it a measly 9% of representative power among the Jewish electorate.
The vast majority of Jewish Israelis are found in the socio-economic and political center-right represented by the Likud, Blue and White, and Israel Beitenu, totaling 72 seats or fully two-thirds of all Jewish votes in the Knesset. Had it been possible to set aside the religious-secular divide in Israeli society and the personal vendettas among the leaders of these three parties, a unity government comprising of 72 seats could easily be formed and it would indeed be representative of the vast majority of the Israeli Jewish population and the Israeli population in general.
This outcome is the declared objective of Israel Beitenu’s leader Avigdor Lieberman and he may yet be able to pull it off, seeing as no government is possible without his participation. The formation of such a government would, however, be an absolute earthquake in Israeli politics, which eschews unity governments outside of national emergencies. It would also be the first time that all religious forces from nationalist to ultra-Orthodox are excluded from the government.
PM Netanyahu has forged a longstanding alliance with the religious segment of the Israeli public and he would be strongly inclined to continue that alliance via the formation of another religious-right government should that course of action present itself, an outcome that now seems unlikely.
The broad consensus in the Jewish Israeli electorate is that Israel should remain a capitalist economy (though with a strong social safety net), maintain a robust military posture towards threats emanating from segments in the Arab and Muslim world, and adhere to secularist and democratic principles in its governance, emphasizing the national aspects of Jewishness over the religious ones. When, in a recent public appearance, the leader of Blue and White Benny Gantz opined that “it is time to let the majority be a majority”, he doubtlessly alluded to this state of affairs. Whether the Israeli realpolitik allows this to happen will be seen in the days and weeks following the September 17th general election.
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