The voters in Israel have spoken. But what, exactly, did they say this week?
Though the final tally is still up in the air, the two leading parties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and former IDF chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, split the largest bloc of votes. Propelled by very high turnout, the far-left anti-Zionist Arab Joint List did well, gaining three seats in the Knesset for a total of 13, while the far-right Otzma Yehudit party fared so poorly that it failed to gain a single seat.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu are claiming the mantle of victory, though with presumed coalitions of 56 seats and 55 seats, respectively, neither can yet form the necessary ruling coalition of 61 seats.
Add it up, and right now no one knows what the next Israeli government will look like or who will head it. But there is the distinct possibility that the Netanyahu era is over.
It also appears that the stranglehold of small religious parties over Israeli political life has come to an end. Instead of needing United Torah Judaism or Shas to form a ruling coalition, both Likud and Blue and White would need the support of Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing but fiercely secular party headed by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, if they’re to form a ruling coalition.
That’s a whole new ballgame. Liberman, the ostensible kingmaker in this electoral year, has called for an end to haredi exemptions to the draft and supports public transportation on Shabbat, among a host of other conditions the religious parties have demanded from successive Israeli governments.
But instead of holding out for the best deal either leading party would offer, Liberman is calling for a national unity government, a shared power arrangement among his party, Likud and Blue and White. Just hours after the early election results were in, Blue and White lent its support to the idea, giving it greater traction.
We agree this is the best option. The Israeli public is clearly deeply divided. And unlike the American winner-take-all political model, Israeli parties have the ability to govern together. They’ve done it before, notably from 1984 to 1988, when Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir took turns as prime minister. They can do it again.
We’re rooting for a unity government. It just might be the ticket to a burst of renewed energy toward better regional and international relations.
Oh, and kol hakavod to the Israeli electorate. Nearly 70 percent of voters turned out, a figure the United States (60 percent in 2016, 49 percent in 2018) can only dream of.