The outlook in Israel in terms of governance is ever so fogbound. The resultant uncertainty arguably lends a new dimension to the relentless ferment in the Middle East.
There are thus far no distinct winners or losers in the recent election, and exit polls from the fourth election in two years show a Parliament divided between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s likely opponents and supporters.
The polls have projected yet another impasse, though the final tally will not be declared for a while. However, going by the forecasts on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu’s stewardship of what they call a “world-beating Covid-19 vaccination rollout” ~ a highlight of his campaign ~ may not have been sufficiently robust to propel the leader of the rightwing Likud party to victory.
To that can be added the corruption cases he has got himself embroiled in, indeed grist to the mill of his opponents. Forecasts indicated a deadlock even with the ultranationalist leader and once Netanyahu’s defence minister, Naftali Bennett’s prospective backing, with the 120 seats in Parliament divided equally between the Netanyahu camp and his detractors.
Bennett, whose far-right Yamina party was forecast to win seven seats, shares Netanyahu’s hardline nationalist ideology, including the annexation of parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and would seem to be more likely to ultimately team up with the incumbent Prime Minister. Whether he could tip the balance will depend on the final results.
The performance of Israel’s opposition was said to have been better than expected and support for Likud dipped after Netanyahu’s critics highlighted corruption charges against the country’s longest-serving leader and accused him of mishandling the pandemic. The erosion of his support base has been considerable.
Dramatic too has been the composition of Parliament, the 50-50 ratio being the outcome of the remarkable psephological swing. Though Likud is projected to retain its status as the biggest party within the Israeli parliament, there are red herrings along the trail to a clear majority.
Unless the negotiations towards a coalition hit the reefs, Israel’s electorate could be headed towards a fifth election in a span of two years, a record of sorts. While the exit polls do not throw up a clear winner, they have projected a “huge victory for the Israeli right”.
According to analysts in Jerusalem, the question of forming a cohesive coalition is much more difficult for the anti-Netanyahu bloc, given their ideological differences. A Netanyahu government with Bennett and a clutch of other ultra-nationalists on board would result in one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. At the end of the day, stability is a different kettle of fish altogether.
The electorate is profoundly polarised, with supporters greeting him as “King Bibi” and opponents holding up placards calling him “Crime Minister”. The truth perhaps lies between these two perceptions of Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister.