With all the votes counted from last Tuesday’s (September 17) general election, the Joint List received 10.62% of all valid ballots cast, giving it 13 seats in the 22nd Knesset, the same number it won four and a half years ago when it first ran for the 20th Knesset in March 2015, thereby making it once again the third largest bloc in Israel’s parliament.
The 13 elected members of the Knesset from the Joint List are: Ayman Odeh (Hadash), Mtanes Shehadeh (Balad), Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), Mansour Abbas (Ra’am), Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash), Walid Taha (Ra’am), Ofer Cassif (Hadash), Heba Yazbak (Balad), Osama Saadi (Ta’al), Yousef Jabareen (Hadash), Said al-Harumi (Ra’am), Jaber Asakala (Hadash) and Sami Abu Shehadeh (Balad).
The overall results of the election made Blue & White the largest party with 32 seats, followed by the Likud with 31, the Joint List (13), Yisrael Beytenu (9), Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (8), Yamina (7), Labor-Gesher (6) and the Democratic Union with 5 seats.
Leaders and supporters of the Joint List viewed the 13 Knesset seats it won with satisfaction, some suggesting that Benjamin Netanyahu’s unabashed racist attempts to demonize Arab-Palestinian citizens during the campaign did not succeed – at least from the perspective of its impeding the Arab vote.
However, worrisomely, Netanyahu’s incitement against the Arab population in Israel, which he first utilized in 2015 to encourage Jews to head to the polls to offset the alleged “droves” of Arabs then doing so, was not only repeated by the prime minister on Tuesday (albeit in a less directly offensive manner), but was also copycatted by other right-wing parties. Most notably, Ayelet Shaked, leader of the Yamina (Rightward), took to social media appealing to right-wing Jewish voters to rally around racist Yamina in response to the increased Arab vote being reported all day (which in fact only began to materialize in the late afternoon and evening) but which, with the close of the polling station at 10pm reached approximately 60%, compared to a record low of 49% in last April’s elections. In the end, Yamina’s 7 seats in the next Knesset was something of a disappointment for Shaked & Co., and less than what most pre-election surveys had predicted.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash), head of the Joint List’s International Relations Committee, told the Middle East Monitor this week that, “The results show a serious increase in the support of the Joint List, which proves that uniting in one list was greeted positively in our community and resulted in invaluable cooperation in the field. They also boost our struggle to achieve equality and peace, both inside Israel and within the international arena.”
According to MK Jabareen, the election results “will also block the way for Netanyahu to establish an extreme right-wing government. In fact, many in our community believed that Netanyahu could be defeated and they came to vote in order to be part of this change. In spite of Netanyahu’s politics of incitements and hate, we succeeded in sending a message of possible change to our supporters, and to promote the politics of hope.”
Exacerbated Political Stalemate
However, the reality on the ground is drastically different. The post-election situation is one of a continued political stalemate, one which has been only exacerbated by the results of the second general election in five months, something unprecedented in Israel’s 70 years of parliamentary elections. Neither of the two leading parties, Blue & White with 32 seats and the Likud with 31, can form a coalition of 61 or more MKs with their “natural allies.” As a result, the real possibility of yet a third round of elections has been openly discussed since 10pm Tuesday night, when the polls closed and each of Israel’s television channels released its own prediction based on post-voting sample surveys conducted by private companies they individually contracted.
In this reality, the only true political victor in these elections is MK Avigdor Lieberman whose right-wing, chauvinistic party, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home), won 9 seats, more than doubling its number of representatives since gaining 4 in April, and then only passing the electoral threshold by the skin of its teeth. Lieberman, who pundits in Israel have been calling a “kingmaker,” for years, has only strengthened this position as a result of the parliamentary arithmetic, and this power of his is now recognized by media outlets around the world. In recent years, Lieberman has consistently presented a “principled” line calling for a secular (read “anti-clerical”) nationalist government. His refusal to be take part in a coalition that includes orthodox religious parties (because of their anti-secular demands) was what made it impossible for Netanyahu to form a stable government after the April election, and ultimately led the Likud to initiate legislation to dissolve the 21st Knesset only a couple of months after the previous vote.
Lieberman’s call after the April election for the Likud and Blue & White to form a National Unity Government without the orthodox religious parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), is seen by many as the reason for his more than doubling his party’s seats in the Knesset in the September election, having gained him much respect from a range of secular voters, despite, or maybe because of, his racism and xenophobia. Now, Lieberman is only intensifying his call to Blue & White and the Likud (together, 63 MKs) to form a National Unity Government which his party will either join or not, depending on their acceptance of his demands: a hyper-nationalistic, secular government that will continue its vehement anti-Arab policies. He has even said that a narrow National Unity Government without Yisrael Beitenu is preferable to the continued political stalemate and uncertainty that will ensue if the two largest rivals refuse to sit together and bring on yet a third round of elections in less than a year – something which would in no way ensure a more decisive victor than Tuesday’s vote.
Little Room for Optimism
In the current situation, it is clear that the Joint List will not be invited by Blue & White to support a minority government from outside (like Rabin’s 1992 government was), to say nothing of actually joining the coalition. If Lieberman’s call for a National Unity Government, with or without the participation of Yisrael Beitenu, is actually realized, then the Joint List would become the lead party of opposition. However, the hope of the slate’s leader, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) expressed before the election – apparently based on a the assumption that Blue & White would win the contest by more than a single Knesset seat – and Benny Gantz would be the next prime minister, thereby enabling the Joint List to help “overthrow the right-wing government,” as well as “preventing racism, annexation and the destruction of democracy”; these hopes appear today to be even further away than they have been in the past.
For a National Unity Government in which Blue & White and the Likud (with or even without Netanyahu as the latter’s head – depending on whether and even when he is indicated on three counts of corruption) does not bode well for the Arab-Palestinian minority within Israel and probably even less so for the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Three of the first four MKs from Blue & White (Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Bogie Ya’alon) are former Chiefs of Staff of the Israel military, replete with credentials for leading brutal asymmetrical military campaigns against Palestinians (Ashkenazi was Chief of Staff during Operation Cast Lead; Ya’alon was Minister of Defense and Gantz was Chief of Staff during Operation Protective Edge), of which they personally bragged in the course of the recent electoral campaign; and the fourth MK, Yair Lapid, a vehement national secularist has said “We’re not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with.” Furthermore, as part of a future peace agreement, Lapid has said Palestinians would have to recognize that the large West Bank settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim would remain within the State of Israel; so much for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority.
So while the much anticipated possibility of toppling Netanyahu and the right-wing political factions could have, in MK Yousef Jabareen’s view, constituted one step further along the path to gaining rights for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and might have possibly strengthened the determination to establish a Palestinian state, in the post-election political chaos that appears to be heading towards a severe governmental crisis, one probably far beyond that which we are now witnessing, such progress appears very remote. What’s more, the dangers within Israel, given today’s volatile regional and global situation, may converge with those emanating from other theaters, near and far, and ignite a general conflagration the results of which we dread to imagine.