The Upcoming Israeli elections and the outlook for the peace process


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The Upcoming Israeli elections and the outlook for the peace process

Israel is bracing itself for new parliamentary elections to take place on March 17th, following the dismissal in early December of Cabinet ministers and coalition partners Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, Justice minister and Finance minister, respectively. The decision by Benjamin Netanyahu to provoke new elections for the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is a calculated move to reshuffle the political cards following the disastrous Gaza war, which has left the Prime Minister’s public rating in tatters, and in the face of strong Cabinet dissentions.

Israel is bracing itself for new parliamentary elections to take place on March 17th, following the dismissal in early December of Cabinet ministers and coalition partners Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, Justice minister and Finance minister, respectively. The decision by Benjamin Netanyahu to provoke new elections for the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is a calculated move to reshuffle the political cards following the disastrous Gaza war, which has left the Prime Minister’s public rating in tatters, and in the face of strong Cabinet dissentions.

Stifled popular aspirations

The 2013 elections had seen the emergence of a new political force in the person of Yair Lapid, a former journalist, and his Yesh Atid party (literally “There is a future”). Capitalizing on the restlessness of young Israelis following the 2011 mass public protests, his party came out first in the polls, gaining 19 seats in the Knesset and ushering in what was expected to be a new, socially-minded era in Israeli politics.

Less than 2 years later however, both Livni (leader of the Hatunah party) and Lapid have seen their support erode due to a perceived lack of progress on social issues and as a result of their inability to steer the Cabinet away from the hardline defense and security positions of Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the leader of the HaBayit HaYetdi party (Jewish Home). As an indirect result, Israeli liberals have now turned to a new figure on which to lay their hopes, ex-Likud Moshe Kahlon.

Amid what international media refer to as a move to the right of Israeli society, national politics are being realigned along more traditional lines. The ultraorthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism who had joined Labour in opposition over the conscription obligation for its Haredim followers have already signaled that they will throw their weight behind Likud.

In many ways the new election will be the ultimate test for Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he be able to cling onto power or will his decision prove his undoing?

According to a new poll released on December 9th, his popularity as a potential Prime Minister is nose-diving and has now dropped to 23%, about the same level as Labour leader Isaac Herzog.

Such is the level of discontent with “Bibi” that Likud sympathizers are increasingly seeking an alternative to Netanyahu to lead their party in the elections, with ex-Interior minister Gideon Sa’ar positioning himself ahead of the party’s leadership election due to take place on January 6th as originally planned.

Whether Netanyahu leads Likud in the elections or not, the question of who would be the best candidate for PM remains.

Besides Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, ex-Likud communications minister Moshe Kalhon is billed as a potential candidate. His success in slashing mobile charges by 90%, dislike for Netanyahu and stated ambition to move the peace process forward, including through giving up land, could place him at the center of discussions for the role.

He has been actively seeking to build a coalition with Yair Lapid and Avigor Lieberman, just as Livni has entered a joint ticket with Labour, with a rotation between Herzog and Livni as PM.

The outlook was nicely summed up by Tzipi Livni when she said that “we need to join forces and create a situation where there is dynamism and hope. The moment there is hope of replacing Netanyahu, it’ll happen.”

The next 3 months will be dominated by calculated moves by all parties involved, and not least by the 3 Arab Israeli parties that have to overcome their divergences in order to confidently meet the 3,25% electoral vote threshold in order to be represented in the Knesset. At the same time commentators, including Israel President Reuven Rivlin, fear low voter turnout, which could play to the advantage of right wing parties.

What could the next Knesset look like?

Based on the Channel 10 poll conducted on December 9th, out of a total of 120 seats, a Labour and Hatunah alliance would likely gain about 22-24 seats, Likud 20, Kahlon’s Kulanu party around 10-13, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home 15, Avigor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu 11 and Lapid’s Yesh Atid 10. The remaining seats would go mainly to ultraorthodox and Arab Israeli parties, while Meretz, the green party, would get 6.

Needless to say these polling results provide only a general tendency ahead of the March vote.

What could this mean for the peace process?

Should Likud be beaten in the March 17th polls, a new loose coalition is likely to emerge in favour of renewed efforts to advance the peace process. Tzipi Livni has worked strenuously to keep the peace process moving and has taken a strong stand by denouncing calls for a US veto on UN recognition of a Palestinian State. Moshe Kahlon has also indicated recently that he would “not hesitate” to give up land in Judea and Samaria if it was necessary to make progress.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid has repeatedly called for a freeze in new settlements and no later than late October 2014 voted against new funding plans for isolated settlements. This went against the wish of Netanyahu, and of his ally Naftali Bennett who calls for the annexation of the West Bank’s Area  C. Even Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu  has suggested land swaps (and population exchanges) as a way forward, although Israeli Arabs are strongly against such a solution, as is Mahmoud Abbas.

From a party perspective, Labour,  Hadunah,  Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s party are all in favour of progress on the issue,  while  The left,  centre-left and centre-right parties stand to gain approximately 55 seats,  to which Meretz’s 6 seats can be added, bringing the total to about 61 seats, one seat over the parliamentary majority threshold. If one adds Yisrael Beiteinu’s projected 11 seats in the Knesset, this could bring the total to about 72, which would be a comfortable majority in Parliament on this crucial issue.

The current Geist in Israel is that change is on the way; change which could pave the way to a fresh start in relations with the Palestinian Authority, but also with the US. And while the electoral outlook could shift between now and election day,  there is a real glimmer of hope for the peace process after years of Netanyahu obstruction.

Thomas Esdaile-Bouquet

Thomas is an international energy affairs expert, having worked on sustainable energy, oil and gas and climate policies and markets for the past 10 years. An alumni of both the Strasbourg and Bordeaux Institutes for Political Sciences, Thomas has held positions in Washington, Paris, Brussels, London and Geneva, advising consultancies, industry trade associations, UN agencies, ministries and multinationals.

Stifled popular aspirations

The 2013 elections had seen the emergence of a new political force in the person of Yair Lapid, a former journalist, and his Yesh Atid party (literally “There is a future”). Capitalizing on the restlessness of young Israelis following the 2011 mass public protests, his party came out first in the polls, gaining 19 seats in the Knesset and ushering in what was expected to be a new, socially-minded era in Israeli politics.

Less than 2 years later however, both Livni (leader of the Hatunah party) and Lapid have seen their support erode due to a perceived lack of progress on social issues and as a result of their inability to steer the Cabinet away from the hardline defense and security positions of Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the leader of the HaBayit HaYetdi party (Jewish Home). As an indirect result, Israeli liberals have now turned to a new figure on which to lay their hopes, ex-Likud Moshe Kahlon.

Amid what international media refer to as a move to the right of Israeli society, national politics are being realigned along more traditional lines. The ultraorthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism who had joined Labour in opposition over the conscription obligation for its Haredim followers have already signaled that they will throw their weight behind Likud.

In many ways the new election will be the ultimate test for Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he be able to cling onto power or will his decision prove his undoing?

According to a new poll released on December 9th, his popularity as a potential Prime Minister is nose-diving and has now dropped to 23%, about the same level as Labour leader Isaac Herzog.

Such is the level of discontent with “Bibi” that Likud sympathizers are increasingly seeking an alternative to Netanyahu to lead their party in the elections, with ex-Interior minister Gideon Sa’ar positioning himself ahead of the party’s leadership election due to take place on January 6th as originally planned.

Whether Netanyahu leads Likud in the elections or not, the question of who would be the best candidate for PM remains.

Besides Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, ex-Likud communications minister Moshe Kalhon is billed as a potential candidate. His success in slashing mobile charges by 90%, dislike for Netanyahu and stated ambition to move the peace process forward, including through giving up land, could place him at the center of discussions for the role.

He has been actively seeking to build a coalition with Yair Lapid and Avigor Lieberman, just as Livni has entered a joint ticket with Labour, with a rotation between Herzog and Livni as PM.

The outlook was nicely summed up by Tzipi Livni when she said that “we need to join forces and create a situation where there is dynamism and hope. The moment there is hope of replacing Netanyahu, it’ll happen.”

The next 3 months will be dominated by calculated moves by all parties involved, and not least by the 3 Arab Israeli parties that have to overcome their divergences in order to confidently meet the 3,25% electoral vote threshold in order to be represented in the Knesset. At the same time commentators, including Israel President Reuven Rivlin, fear low voter turnout, which could play to the advantage of right wing parties.

What could the next Knesset look like?

Based on the Channel 10 poll conducted on December 9th, out of a total of 120 seats, a Labour and Hatunah alliance would likely gain about 22-24 seats, Likud 20, Kahlon’s Kulanu party around 10-13, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home 15, Avigor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu 11 and Lapid’s Yesh Atid 10. The remaining seats would go mainly to ultraorthodox and Arab Israeli parties, while Meretz, the green party, would get 6.

Needless to say these polling results provide only a general tendency ahead of the March vote.

What could this mean for the peace process?

Should Likud be beaten in the March 17th polls, a new loose coalition is likely to emerge in favour of renewed efforts to advance the peace process. Tzipi Livni has worked strenuously to keep the peace process moving and has taken a strong stand by denouncing calls for a US veto on UN recognition of a Palestinian State. Moshe Kahlon has also indicated recently that he would “not hesitate” to give up land in Judea and Samaria if it was necessary to make progress.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid has repeatedly called for a freeze in new settlements and no later than late October 2014 voted against new funding plans for isolated settlements. This went against the wish of Netanyahu, and of his ally Naftali Bennett who calls for the annexation of the West Bank’s Area  C. Even Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu  has suggested land swaps (and population exchanges) as a way forward, although Israeli Arabs are strongly against such a solution, as is Mahmoud Abbas.

From a party perspective, Labour,  Hadunah,  Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s party are all in favour of progress on the issue,  while  The left,  centre-left and centre-right parties stand to gain approximately 55 seats,  to which Meretz’s 6 seats can be added, bringing the total to about 61 seats, one seat over the parliamentary majority threshold. If one adds Yisrael Beiteinu’s projected 11 seats in the Knesset, this could bring the total to about 72, which would be a comfortable majority in Parliament on this crucial issue.

The current Geist in Israel is that change is on the way; change which could pave the way to a fresh start in relations with the Palestinian Authority, but also with the US. And while the electoral outlook could shift between now and election day,  there is a real glimmer of hope for the peace process after years of Netanyahu obstruction.

Thomas Esdaile-Bouquet

Thomas is an international energy affairs expert, having worked on sustainable energy, oil and gas and climate policies and markets for the past 10 years. An alumni of both the Strasbourg and Bordeaux Institutes for Political Sciences, Thomas has held positions in Washington, Paris, Brussels, London and Geneva, advising consultancies, industry trade associations, UN agencies, ministries and multinationals.

IFAIR

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