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Israel wakes up to political turmoil — again

Dana Regev
September 18, 2019

After an unprecedented repeat election, partial results show that Israel's two main political rivals have failed to secure a majority once again. This has left voters more exhausted and skeptical than ever.

Bildkombo:  Benny Gantz, Avigdor Lieberman und Benjamin Netanyahu
Image: Reuters/R. Zvulun

For the second time in five months, Israelis woke up to a dawn of a new, but oh-so-familiar day: The country's two main political parties are deadlocked once again.

Partial results indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party will be edged out by main challenger Benny Gantz's Blue and White party. Gantz's center-left party is expected to take 32 seats while Netanyahu's side will hold 31 seats of the 120 in parliament. But neither has a clear path forward in securing a majority with their alliances to get the 61 seats required to form a coalition.

'Divided to the bone'

With 91% of the votes counted as of Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu's bloc is six seats short of a majority.

Avigdor Lieberman, whose secularist right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party is projected to gain nine seats, is yet again likely to be kingmaker with the power to send the country into yet another round of elections.

"The picture is clear. There is only one option and it's a broad liberal unity government," he said, referring to a potential coalition composed of his Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Blue and White.

Israel Elections 2019 | Aharon Genish
Aharon Genish: "Am I surprised? Hardly."Image: DW/D. Regev

But this alliance means Gantz will have to break the promise he made to his supporters: to never sit in the same coalition as Netanyahu.

Voters seem desperate. "I'm extremely disappointed," said Aharon Genish, a fashion designer from the northern port city of Haifa who voted for Blue and White. "But am I surprised? Hardly. These elections are an accurate reflection of the society in Israel. We are divided to the bone."

'Nothing will change'

To understand the division in the small Middle Eastern country, one needs to look no further than the rest of the parties joining Israel's parliament, or Knesset.

After right-wing Likud and center-left Blue and White comes the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, followed closely by the Joint List — an alliance of four Arab parties — and the religious United Torah Judaism.

"The real problem is that nothing is going to change," said 33-year-old Shaked, a mother of a newborn girl.

"This is my real concern. People are apathetic because they know it doesn't really matter. Will anyone end the occupation? Will anyone freeze building new settlements? Will anyone make life here easier than before? I highly doubt it."

It has become a common saying in Israel, that one might go to sleep with one winner and wake up with another. This uncertainty is what makes even those satisfied with the results suspicious.

"All sides are corrupted anyway," said Yoram Naumann, a long-time Israeli lawyer. "But I'm happy with the results, because at least they mean that in some form or another, Gantz and his party will have to be part of the government. This is already a small step in the right direction."

Israel elections 2019 | Yoram Naumann
"A small step in the right direction:" Yoram NaumannImage: DW/D. Regev

Netanyahu's supporters, however, are standing by their candidate. "I seriously think Netanyahu is the best prime minister Israel can have," said 34-year-old Asaf Shitrit. "Leftists always think that people who vote for him are uneducated or uninformed — but this is ridiculous."

If no significant change occurs when the final results are released, this election has many losers. One may be Netanyahu, who desperately sought an outright majority in hopes of passing legislation that would grant him immunity from potential criminal charges over corruption allegations.

But it's everyday Israelis who seem to bear the brunt. "I'm just tired," says Genish. "We can't go to the polls every few months because our politicians are too corrupt to behave like representatives of a proper democracy."

"Only Bibi!" one driver screamed from a passing car. "You see?" Genish sighs, "the 'only' democracy in the Middle East," he gestures. "If it only behaved like that."