Likud’s landslide electoral victory was hardly predictable if polls had to be given serious attention. Since they were announced, the elections have been portrayed as a referendum on Netanyahu and an opportunity for Israeli voters to give a new face to the international image of the country.
A careful analysis of the electoral campaign and the ballots’ outcome leads to a few important conclusions mostly ignored by the international media, especially in the West, where the “outrage” for the results reached very high peaks. The Zionist Union led by the duo “Herzog-Livni” mostly focused its campaign on the slogan “Anyone but Bibi”. Negative electioneering never really pays off. As an Exclusive Report by DebkaFile reported, “The tactic’s very intensity boomeranged, when Bibi craftily turned it into an asset. He reached out to the voter as the underdog who had been unjustly vilified by the haves.
Despite Likud’s victory though, this election showed a counter-trend compared to the previous electoral rounds. Very few have noted that Israel is slowly shifting to the left. If the results are compared with the 2013 electoral round, it turns out that during the previous elections, the political strength of the right-wing parties in the Knesset – Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism – was 61 seats, while now, these same parties together dropped to 57 seats. The centre in 2013, formed by Yesh Atid and Kadima, reached 21 seats, and in 2015 it retained the same number of seats, although now formed by Yesh Atid and Kulanu. In 2013 the left received 38 seats, while in 2015 it rose to 42. This is an important counter-trend as these elections have seen the nationalist parties (Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beitenu) losing seats, and an extremist party such as Yahad, chaired by Eli Yishai, being left out of the Knesset. At the same time it saw the Arab parties, united under the name Joint List and chaired by Ayman Odeh, gaining 14 seats and representing the third party in the Knesset, but must of all with a pro-active attitude, trying to enter the Israeli political discussion with a meaningful agenda.
For some time during the election, president Reuvlin has been reported as hoping for a national unity government, but as soon as the results became official, this option has been de facto sidelined and discarded.
The political challenges ahead of the new government mainly concern social, diplomatic, and security issues. The biggest concern for the average Israeli voter is linked to social issues, particularly salaries, housing crisis, schools, and social services. In the past ten years though, the State of Israel has experienced an incredible development of infrastructures, particularly for what concerns water supply and transportation. In this sense, the new government is expected to continue along this path.
Income inequality and widening of the gap between rich and poor is a growing problem, and as such it is not much different than any other Western countries. Particular attention in the Israeli society has recently been given to the religious and Arab sectors. These two groups are those less integrated in the employment system, and as such efforts to include them in social and employment development programmes are expected.
On the diplomatic and security track, in the past decade the Israeli politicians, both on the right and left, understood that the State of Israel has to secure its self-reliance concerning technology, security, and home production. The international scenario developed in the past few years have shown a growing number of countries around the world unwilling to accept and support Israel’s quest for security and safety, and most of all ready to battle these reasons in international arenas and institutions. For this reason it is expected a harder work, already brought on by previous governments, to create a diplomatic and regional safety network. Israel and the Sunni Arab countries of the region share the same concern for security, especially for what concerns the Iranian threat.
Despite the opinions that the duo “Herzog-Livni” would have represented political standings closer to the demands of the international community, the positions between them and Netanyahu are not really far from each other when security issues are concerned, especially for what concerns the Iranian threat. Even for what regards the peace process with the Palestinian Authority, although with different words, none of them would be less firm in their demands. The only difference would probably concern the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, according to the interlocutor.
The approach would probably be different, as Herzog and Livni support the idea of a Palestinian State in order to relieve the State of Israel from the obligation of dealing with Palestinian internal issues, while Netanyahu and other nationalist leaders would set clear lines on Palestinian obligations in order to avoid the creation of a rogue state whose main aim is the destruction of the “Jewish state.” Despite all this though, the firmness would be the same.
Contrary to what it might be expected, the Palestinian factions will actually benefit from Netanyahu’s victory. One of the main shortfall shown by the Palestinian Authority through the years was to actually implement a proper master plan for the development of the Palestinian territories, curbing the widespread corruption among civil servants and developing social programmes meant to raise the quality of life among the population.
These issues have often been sidelined due to the focus of the international community on the supposed Netanyahu’s intransigence. The election of the latter will actually allow these factions to continue on the same track. It will be up to the international community to push on the track of reforms and free elections, which have been missing in the territories for almost ten years.