Next Tuesday, Israelis go to the polls once again to vote for a new Knesset or, more likely, for a Knesset similar to that which currently exists.
The impressions most polls give is that just like here in the United States, the country is split between the right and the left. A major dichotomy between Israeli elections and those here in the U.S. is that over there, election campaigns are, by design, curtailed and contained. Here in the U.S., these days anyway, they seem endless.
Who can remember when the Democratic opposition to President Trump began to take shape? It was long ago and there are still almost 14 months until the 2020 election will take place and people will actually be voting in our national election.
Anyway, the issue today is what these two elections — the one in Israel next week and the one in the U.S. next year — have in common. First, there is the matter of the long-overdue “Deal of the Century” that once upon a time was supposed to bring a fresh and innovative approach to the stalled and stale peace process between Israel and the Palestinian population within Israel’s borders.
By the way, don’t think that a few days after the election the so-called deal is going to be immediately released by Jared Kushner or Jason Greenblatt, who is leaving the administration in a few weeks. Once the results are in on Israel’s election next week, there is an allotment of six weeks for the party chosen to form a government to actually patch together a governing coalition.
And the reason Israel is doing this again, having just had elections in April, is because Mr. Netanyahu could not construct a majority of at least 61 Parliament seats to rule Israel going forward.
As fate has it, the balance of future power in Israel comes down to policy that revolves around the role of Orthodox Jews in Israel’s society.
The non-Orthodox and non-right-leaning political parties in Israel would have us believe two essential points about these segments of Israel’s society. One is that they do not want to enter the labor force, and the second is that, like most Israeli youth, they do not want to serve in the IDF.
These lines of thought have been largely debunked over the last few years as record numbers of chareidim have studied a trade or a field of endeavor and have gone to work, and the Nachal Chareidi brigade in the Israel Defense Force is bursting with volunteers from within these communities.
But still it is a matter of spurring on the left in Israel to have them believe that the ultra-Orthodox want all the benefits that Israeli society offers without the need to pay into the system.
Unfortunately, even with chareidi support and that of Ayelet Shaked’s New Right Party, the Likud, led by Israel’s longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will likely not be able to patch together a ruling coalition without making dramatic concessions to one of the secular or center-left parties in the Knesset.
This could mean compromises on things like national Shabbat observance (like the running of rail lines and buses) to requiring some kind of national service for all youth, even yeshiva students. These compromises are unacceptable to the chareidi parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and could jeopardize the ability to create a government from the other end of this political spectrum.
Polls in Israel over the last few months have basically confirmed what we have all known all along—that the country is split almost down the middle. The kicker, or not-so-hidden little secret, is that Israelis tend to be untruthful with pollsters, and creating the image that the election will be extremely tight helps to motivate people to vote.
A poll over the last few days indicated that with just about a week to go until Election Day in Israel, 47% of Israelis have said that they are undecided about who they will vote for. How the polls can be so definitive about who is ahead, who is lagging behind, and who will pass or not pass the electoral threshold is mostly a mystery.
It seems that both Israel and the U.S., while split, lean more to the right than the left. Barack Obama tried to pull the U.S. to the extreme left, and he made some progress, but there seemed to be a national reluctance to collectively move too far in that direction. Now, for some reason, the declared Democratic candidates have maneuvered themselves even further to the left than Mr. Obama. But as the Trump victory in 2016 demonstrated, that is not what America wants.
And in Israel the story might be very much the same. We have traveled down the road of the leftist panacea through Camp David, Madrid, and Wye Plantation talks. The agenda on each of those occasions could never be realized, and the reason for those failures is very much the same reason why the Trump deal cannot work today.
There is no partner to put together a deal for real peace that will improve the lives of both Jews and Arabs. It was once thought that for peace to be realized, one party, usually Israel, had to compromise to the point of feeling pain. Thankfully, that is an old and now outdated thought process that simply does not apply anymore.
But that does not mean that the left in Israel or the Democrats in the United States are not still holding on to the old formulation. And interestingly, it is not because they insist that there must be two states for two peoples. They just don’t know what else to do and they seem to know no other way than to squeeze Israel.
So maybe those squeezing days are over, at least until there is a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office. Frankly, I do not understand people who waffle and vacillate on the Trump presidency. Some do not like episodes in his past life or the way he speaks. All we ever wanted over all these years is a president who would be good for Israel, and now we have exactly that and we still hem and haw and stylishly dither. Rest assured that of all American citizens with special interests, we are probably the only ones who act this way.
In his final election campaign push earlier this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that after next week’s election he is prepared to annex the Jordan Valley. If the Deal of the Century had any life in it even before it is presented, that kind of move — if more than rhetorical — should end it.
As for the Israeli election, the fear on the right is that Netanyahu will be forced to form an alliance with Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid of Blue and White or with Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, which will require that many of Netanyahu’s plans be modified.
Elections raise questions, but they also define the mindset of a country. You know what they say — democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for all the others. These campaigns may be tiring but few can argue that there is any other way.