Israel’s election resulted in a tie for seats in the Knesset between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Blue and White alliance, the center-left party led by Benny Gantz. The likely outcome is a coalition government formed by Likud and other far-right parties, and a fifth term for Netanyahu as prime minister despite his ongoing corruption scandal and possible indictments. Journalist and documentary filmmaker Lia Tarachansky and Real News Network correspondent Shir Hever joined Marc Steiner to discuss the results of the elections in Israel. In Part 1 of this interview, they look at Netanyahu as a political strategist and pseudo-centrist, the disturbing near-success of Moshe Feiglin’s extreme right Zehut Party, and explore whether a center-left party full of army generals is center-left at all.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again.
This Israeli election has just concluded. 97 percent of the votes have been counted as of this taping here today. It appears Netanyahu, the right-wing prime minister, and Gantz, the former general and center-left candidate of the Blue and White coalition, are neck and neck at 29.2 percent, which gives each of them 35 seats in the Knesset. The real story is that the right wing and religious parties will go on to perhaps 65 seats, and the center left with perhaps 55, and Arab and other left parties around 10 seats.
In their parliamentary system, the threshold is 62 seats to form a government, and the right seems to have it, especially since no Israeli governing coalition has ever invited the Arabs to be part of the government. The result is clear, and rather predictable. The right wing under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu has a clear majority.
What options now stand before Netanyahu and his main opponent Gantz? And how will the distribution of votes between the small parties determine what kind of coalition is likely to be formed and which policies it might adapt?
The election results were greeted with mixed feelings among Israelis. And let’s hear the opinion of one very aptly named Moshe Trope from Tel Aviv.
MOSHE TROPE: I am really very happy about it. I am very pleased about it because I think Netanyahu is a great leader. Israel is a strong country, it is a wealthy country, and I think it will be better now. I don’t think that Gantz and Lapid have enough experience, and that is the reason I am very happy about the results.
MARC STEINER: We are joined today by Lia Tarachansky, a journalist and documentary filmmaker who previously reported for The Real News Network as a producer and correspondent in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. She was born in the Soviet Union, grew up in a settlement on the occupied West Bank, and her film is On the Side of the Road, a documentary of Israel’s biggest taboo, to talk about the events of 1948 when the state was created. And her work appeared on BBC, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Canadian Dimension Magazine, and many other journals. Good to have you with us once again, Lia. You have been missed.
LIA TARACHANSKY: Thank you for having me. Thanks, Marc.
MARC STEINER: And Shir Hever is with us once again, of course. Also born in Israel; is a correspondent for The Real News Network living in Heidelberg, Germany. His most recent book is The Privatization of Israeli Security, published in 2017 by Pluto Press. Shir, good to have you back with us, as well.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Marc.
MARC STEINER: So let’s go to some really clear issues here. I mean, we won’t see what government is actually formed until maybe tomorrow, the next day, when the machinations begin to happen and they go before Rivlin and this happens. But were either of you stunned by the election results? Lia?
LIA TARACHANSKY: I have to say that–you know, I’ve covered Israeli elections in the past, and I’m always stunned by them. I stayed up yesterday watching what was happening. First the preliminary results that were closer, to now the final results that we’re seeing. Then there was a huge shift in the results roughly around 3:00 in the morning, and then we went back to this equal distribution of power.
I was elated by some of the events of the election, and I was, of course, deeply disturbed by some of the other parts. And I think that this election was a dramatic one.
MARC STEINER: I want to get back in a moment to the point–the interesting things you said you were shocked by, and kind of liked. But, Shir, what’s your analysis of this?
SHIR HEVER: I have to disagree on this point. I think that if we look at it from the perspective of Netanyahu formulating his strategy on how he wants to proceed as the prime minister, the timing of the election was perfectly orchestrated by him. He decided exactly which parties are going to run, and he was able to control the media coverage. And the result is not surprising at all, because I think that’s exactly what he wanted. The election leaves him with two options. He can either form a coalition with the far-right parties, the openly racist parties that are saying that their condition to joining his coalition is to pass legislation that will make it impossible to indict an acting prime minister. In other words, to get him off the hook on all his corruption charges.
His other option is to create a coalition with the center party, the Blue and White Party, which may break into small parts because of that, because some of them would say they don’t want to join a coalition. But that’s a very young party, and it has no structure, and it could easily break down. And so Netanyahu will then be able to present himself as if he’s the centrist, as if he has a position both on the left and on the right, which would of course make that opposition completely powerless. So he has all the cards now.
MARC STEINER: And, Lia, so what were you alluding to, Lia, what you said in the opening, then? It’s different from what Shir just said.
LIA TARACHANSKY: Yeah. I think, indeed, what we saw is that Netanyahu is a brilliant tactician. We saw that he had a strategy in mind. This is not the first time he does it. He has this way of staying in power where just before his term is to run out he calls early elections, and that way he is able to outrun the two consecutive term limit and basically be in power endlessly. And he’s been in power now for ten years, and this is his fifth time getting elected. Each time he’s been elected he’s had more votes. So in a way what he has shown, as the Israeli press has been covering, he’s a remarkable candidate in the sense that he knows how to run and he knows how to win.
I think what I was very surprised by is that a party that came into existence less than three months ago was able to get as many seats as Netanyahu. That was–to me that was surprising. I thought that they would get, you know, a good chunk, like Kadima. But I did not think that they would match Netanyahu’s power. Now, that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. It’s just a surprising thing. I was also elated to see that Zehut, Feiglin’s party, did not make it into the Parliament.
MARC STEINER: And they are who? Just for our viewers who don’t know who that is. What party is that?
LIA TARACHANSKY: Moshe Feiglin is a very known Israeli extreme right politician. He used to be in the ruling Likud party. He now has his own new party called Zehut, which means identity. He tried to throw in a last-minute popular issue into these elections by claiming that he was pro legalization of marijuana. But that is a very last-minute move. What he is most known for are the books that he has written and the positions that he has taken. The things that he has talked about endlessly is that he supports ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel. He supports basically the replacement of the Haram Ash-Sharif, the Golden Dome mosques on the Temple Mount, with a third temple. He is an extreme alt-right, far-right, openly racist politician, and he didn’t make it into this Parliament.
Now, he didn’t make it by a hair. So definitely he has support in Israel. And also I think that these elections showed that one of the moves of the far right in the previous elections was to try and exclude the Palestinian parties, these are Palestinian parties of citizens of Israel, by raising the percentage that is necessary to make it into the Parliament. And in some ways it actually backfired on the far right as well, because a lot of their parties didn’t make it, either. And those are the things that I was elated by.
MARC STEINER: So let me–Shir, do you have anything to say about that before I move on to another topic?
SHIR HEVER: No.
MARC STEINER: OK, so I want to get a couple of things here. So it is clear that let’s legalize the high vote didn’t put the right wing over, which is a good thing. But one of the things is that-
LIA TARACHANSKY: But I would say that the alt-right wing, the entire government at this point, I mean, the center left so-called party is a party of military generals who have been in charge of the bombardment of Gaza for the last decade. All of these elected parties more more or less–almost all of them are right wing.
MARC STEINER: Well, that’s a–you’re making me now, Lia, switch what I was going to ask next, which had to do with what’s going to happen to the West Bank, and kind of seizing all the land in the West Bank under this new Netanyahu government, which I want to come to next. But let me just explore something out of what you just said for a moment. Does this election, given the strength of what you call the broad left, the broadest definition of left, and looking at how many votes they got, the fact that that the two coalitions of our parties, and the left parties that are further left than that also retain the 10 seats in the parliament, in the Knesset, is there any hope in the larger sense that a struggle inside of Israel for a future that doesn’t remain with Israel as an occupying territory? Israel is expanding by taking all of historic Palestine under their rule completely. I mean, is there now something being set up politically where a new debate can happen, where a new push can happen, that doesn’t allow that to happen? Does this election say anything about that?
SHIR HEVER: Are you asking me or Shir?
MARC STEINER: I’m asking you both, but Lia, you can start, and then we can go to Shir.
LIA TARACHANSKY: Well, I mean, I think that what you are describing is actually the Naftali Bennett one-state solution. Naftali Bennett in 2013, just before he ran, he was already angling for government, to be a politician. As you know, he is a successful high tech businessman, entrepreneur, who sold his company and became a millionaire, after which he entered politics. He’s a very ideological, very dedicated, very serious man who actually didn’t make it into this election because of the same raised votes situation.
However, already back then he proposed a one-state solution, which at the time–which was only five years ago–was seen so outrageous to the press and is now openly discussed. And his idea was basically that you give–you push as many Palestinians as possible in the rural areas of the West Bank into the urban areas. You surround those urban areas with bigger walls. And then those Palestinians left behind in the rural areas, which is the vast majority of the West Bank, the farmers, you give them citizenship. And according to his estimate it shouldn’t be more than 70,000 people. And then the vast majority of Palestinians that live in the West Bank would then be living in walled ghettos, forever connected with a system of roads that keeps them connected, but essentially makes their life there nearly impossible. And then Israel can claim sovereignty over the West Bank, settling forever this 50-year-old question of how you can conquer a land without giving any rights to its people. You can conquer land and keep the people that live on that land in a limbo, which is what the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem has been.
However, from the get-go, the idea with Gaza was that it is just too many people, and there is not enough assets in this territory on the coast, in the Gaza Strip, to keep it. There’s no reason to give those people any access to Israel, and to claim sovereignty over that land. And so the question has always been how do we convince the Egyptians to take that land? And now what we’ve seen with General Sisi’s government is that in fact the Egyptians are quite warm to the idea, and have been hinting that they are willing to take Gaza. Which means that with East Jerusalem being more or less completely annexed in the reality on the ground and in the words of the Americans; the Golan Heights, almost the same situation; Israel claiming sovereignty suddenly over the West Bank is not something that I think is going to lead to profound changes on the ground, because of course Israel today is the only sovereign power that dictates the lives of all of the Palestinians.
MARC STEINER: But I was wondering as well, does this election provide any hope that a broader coalition of the left, moderate left, and the Arab votes together can actually have a resistance and change what’s happening in Israel? Do you see any of that in this election?
SHIR HEVER: Well, you know, let me focus on what is new about this particular election, because this question is asked every election. But this is the first election that has taken place after the law of the nation has been legislated in last July. And so now apartheid is an official part of the Israeli legal system very openly, and it’s very clear that non-Jewish citizens of the state just don’t own that country anymore and don’t have a legal claim to influence the political results.
Now, every election, and this was no exception, on Election Day there is a closure on all Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank. Gaza is closure every day. But in the West Bank they have a special closure for the election. So while Israelis can go and vote, Palestinians are not able to move. And one Israeli professors that I want to quote here said on these conditions the only moral choice for Jewish Israelis to use the privilege that they have to participate in the political process is to vote for the non-Jewish parties, to vote for Arab parties. That’s the only thing they can do morally under these conditions. And there was an interesting poll by the organization [local call] where they asked people, would you consider voting for–they asked Jewish people, will you consider voting for Arab parties? And the answer was almost zero. Less than 10 percent. And when they asked Arabs, will you consider voting for a Jewish party if its ideology is close to yours? The answer was over 70 percent yes.
So I think that answers your question right there. In this election the Jewish population voted for Zionist parties, almost exclusively for Zionist parties, while Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel in large numbers just decided to boycott the election. And I think that’s the reason–because they have lost hope completely that through some kind of internal process of the Israeli political system they can change the apartheid and segregation that has been imposed upon them.
LIA TARACHANSKY: I think that it’s–sorry. I just wanted to add that I think that it’s incredibly ironic, because if you actually look at what’s party’s been doing what, the party of Ahmed Tibi, who’s been in parliament now for a long time, a Palestinian politician, his party is the one that we can actually call left, because they are the ones who have been actually fighting for the rights of the citizen, the individual. They’ve been fighting for women’s rights, and they’ve actually proposed and passed profoundly democratic legislation. And yet they are, because they are Palestinian, are associated with one issue, which is the conflict.
MARC STEINER: So we’re talking to Lia Tarachansky and Shir Hever on The Real News, and I’m Marc Steiner. We’re going to end this part of our conversation now, but come back and watch the second part of this conversation as we explore in more depth what this election means, the role of Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing Russian politician who may be becoming the kingmaker, and what this portends for the future. So I hope you’re enjoying this conversation. I know I am. We’ll be back with our two guests. Join us for the second segment.