By: Dr. Mohanad Mustafa.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).
Netanyahu’s right-wing camp has achieved a clear victory in the 25th Knesset election, where with the rise of the extremist Religious Zionism party had an important role, meanwhile the Zionist left continued to decline and vanish. The Arab parties were negatively affected by the separation of the National Democratic Assembly (NDA—Balad) from the Joint List that unites the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE—Hadash) and the Arab Movement for Change (AMC—Ta’al).
Netanyahu is expected to form his sixth government from within his far-right nationalist and religious camp. He may seek to weaken the judiciary and allow the formation of local “militias” under security pretexts to legitimize repression of the Arab community. He may also fulfill a number of religious parties’ financial demands to support their educational institutions and the “halal” Jewish food (kosher), and he will give his partners ministries concerned with internal affairs.
The pace of settlement and Judaization plans is expected to increase, especially in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, with the faltering of the peace process and since dealing with the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based on its security role. Netanyahu is to take over the foreign relations dossier and continue normalizing relations in the region.
The Knesset elections ended with a big victory for the right-wing camp led by the Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu. The election resulted in the rise of the popularity of the religious and extremist right in Israel and the collapse of the Zionist left, when the left-wing Meretz party failed to pass the electoral threshold. The representation of the Labor party, which founded the State of Israel, has also declined to four seats, the lowest result it had throughout its political history.
Voter turnout in the 25th Knesset election reached about 70.6%, which is the highest participation rate since 2015. Netanyahu’s camp succeeded in obtaining 64 seats in this election after repeatedly failing in the last four electoral cycles to obtain 61 seats. This camp, which is also called Netanyahu’s camp, consists of Likud, the Haredi religious parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism “UTJ”) and Religious Zionism headed by Bezalel Smotrich and formed from an alliance between Religious Zionism and the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir. The representation of Netanyahu’s camp increased by about 12 seats since the March 2021 elections. At that time, the camp’s lists obtained 52 seats. In this election, the representation of three lists increased, and one list maintained its representation.
Table 1: Results of the Netanyahu Camp in Knesset Elections 2021-2022
|Knesset 2021||Knesset 2022|
The Netanyahu camp was able to significantly increase the number of voters to its benefit in the pro-right wing cities, by raising the voter turnout in the right-wing strongholds. The main reason for the success of the Netanyahu camp was the rise of Religious Zionism which obtained 14 seats compared to 6 in 2021. The number of seats for Shas movement, which represents religious and conservative eastern Jews, increased to 11 seats, a representation it has not had for more than 15 years. UTJ maintained its representation thanks to the stability of its electoral bases which depend on the ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredi).
The historical achievement of Religious Zionism is the greatest achievement in this election. This party, which represents the ultra-nationalist religious right in Israel, has used during the past year a populist rhetoric, stirring the feelings of Jewish people by focusing on Jewish sovereignty and national dignity. The party in general, and the “star” of this election Itamar Ben-Gvir in particular, promised to restore the personal security of the Jewish people in Jewish towns while using a rhetoric hostile to Arabs. Ben-Gvir is part of a global phenomenon with the rise of the populist far-right. His discourse mainly focuses on the hatred of others in light of the rise of globalization, and the liberal economy that has enabled marginalized groups to advance on the socio-economic and political ladder and challenge the “masters” claiming that the Arabs in Israel have defied their “masters.” Even the issue of violence and crime is not addressed as a social scourge, but as a national challenge to Jewish sovereignty and a challenge to the “masters.” Apparently, Ben-Gvir’s rise is not only related to the settlement building plan in the West Bank (WB) or the Palestinians in WB and the Gaza Strip (GS), but also to his extremist rhetoric concerning al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem, and his intentions to confront the rise of Arabs’ standing in Israel who, in the eyes of his audience, defy Jewish supremacy and the Jewish “master.” Thus, they brought a new Jewish “master” who promised to return the Arabs to their normal position before their “masters.”
The Israeli left and center consists of Yesh Atid headed by current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the State Camp headed by current Army Minister Benny Gantz, the Labor party headed by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Meretz party headed by Zehava Galon, and Yisrael Beitenu headed by Minister of Finance Avigdor Lieberman.
The success of the Netanyahu camp in obtaining 64 seats was not only due to the high representation of Religious Zionism, but also because the opposing camp was not united. While the Netanyahu camp including four lists crossed the electoral threshold and attained great electoral achievements, the anti-Netanyahu camp lost hundreds of thousands of votes due to the large number of lists.
Before the election, Netanyahu was able to prevent the disintegration of Religious Zionism and UTJ. He personally intervened to preserve the unity of these parties so that their votes would not be scattered or a list would fail to cross the electoral threshold and cause his camp to lose a number of seats. In return, Lapid failed to impose unity between Labor and Meretz due to the position of Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli refusing to “brand” her party as radical left, considering Labor to be left-centered. Lapid also intervened in dismantling the Joint List by seeking to exclude the NDA, to make it easier for him to deal with it after the election, should he be assigned to form a government. The unity between Blue and White, headed by Gantz, and the New Hope party, headed by Gideon Saar, joined by Gadi Eisenkot to establish the National Unity Party did not enhance this party’s strength which was even less than that of the separate parties.
Practically, Yesh Atid was the only party in the anti-Netanyahu camp that has grown in strength as its popularity increased significantly over the past year from 17 seats to 24 in the current election. This was mainly due to Lapid’s discourse which expresses the orientations of the Israeli political center seeking to preserve the “democratic” face of the institutions in Israel against the orientations of the right, and supporting the security tendency in dealing with the Palestine issue, unlike the left. In addition to his assumption of the position of prime minister and his “official” discourse, and the fact that he was the most fortunate to form a government. Lapid worked on strengthening his party to compete with the Likud, which weakened the rest of the lists opposing Netanyahu and contributed to the fall of Meretz.
|Knesset 2021||Knesset 2022|
|National Unity Party||14||12|
|DFPE and AMC||6||5|
Voting in the Arab Community
Three Arab lists competed in the election: the Joint List, headed by MK Ayman Odeh, and formed from an alliance between the DFPE and AMC, NDA headed by MK Sami Abu Shehadeh, which left the Joint List at the last moments before submitting the electoral lists to the Elections Committee, and the United Arab List (UAL—Ra‘am) headed by MK Mansour Abbas.
Table 3: Election results in the Arab Community 2021-2022
|Knesset 2021||Knesset 2022|
|DFPE and AMC *||6||5|
* It was in the 2021 election within the Joint List in addition to NDA.
** It was on the Joint List in 2021.
No one expected that the voter turnout in the Arab community would reach 54%. For in the 2021 election, it fell to 43%, and it seemed clear that the frustration with influencing Israeli policies and the final dissolution of the Joint List on the eve of the election will lead to people’s reluctance to vote or to a low voter turnout as in the last election cycle.
The high voter turnout is due to a number of reasons, the most important of which are:
First: Persistent intimidation from the rise of a right-wing government of which Religious Zionism is a part. Intimidation has increased in the few days prior elections, by Arab, Jewish and even international circles through campaigns that encourage voting.
Second: The NDA’s participation alone in the Knesset election contributed to a voter turnout increase. The NDA stimulated Arab sectors to vote for it as a movement with a different discourse that does not accept the influence game in the Israeli camps. This prompted more voting in the Arab community, where before there was no such discourse. In addition, there was solidarity with it, because some considered the DFPE and AMC have conspired against the NDA.
Third: Arab lists begged the people to vote, especially after reports of high voting rates in the Jewish community and that all the Arab lists are threatened to lose.
The representation of the UAL headed by Mansour Abbas increased from four seats in the 2021 elections to five seats in the current Knesset. The alliance of DFPE and AMC got five seats after the Joint List (the Assembly was part of it) got six seats in the 2021 election.
These results indicate that the UAL has turned into the first Arab parliamentary political force in the Arab community. This due to the support of sectors of the Arab community for the approach of Mansour Abbas, who clearly and directly states that he wants to be part of the Israeli government and have influence from within.
Netanyahu and the Formation of the Government
After five elections, Netanyahu managed to form a right-wing government relying mainly on his normal allies. Netanyahu succeeded because he was able to unite his camp, maintain its internal cohesion and raise voter turnout in the right-wing bases. Religious Zionism had a central role in this regard.
It is unlikely for Netanyahu to form a government by relying on lists from outside his camp, and it is also unlikely that lists from the opposition camp will join the government. Apparently, Netanyahu’ government will be far-right.
It is important to analyze the orientations of the upcoming government in three arenas:
In Israel, the government will try to implement some of its central promises which increased its strength including weakening political institutions in the political system, especially the judiciary, as the government will try to restrict the ability of the Israeli Supreme Court to abolish laws enacted by the government. The second issue will be related to the individuals’ security which was a central factor in the rise of Ben-Gvir’s popularity. It has to do with the rise of crime in Jewish towns, accusing the Arabs, especially in the south. Ben-Gvir demanded to be assigned the internal security portfolio, and he might legitimize the establishment of local militias in every town under the pretext of maintaining security and give the police the green light to escalate their repression of political protests among Arabs. The third issue is related to the return of financial support to religious educational institutions, the abolition of government reforms in the religious institution such as “halal” food (kosher), and the abolition of rights granted by former minister of health to homosexuals in the health sector. Therefore, Netanyahu will be keen to give his partners ministries concerned with internal affairs as he announced that the ministries of foreign, defense and finance will remain with the Likud party.
2. The Palestinian arena
At the Palestinian level, the next government will not change its strategy towards the GS, despite statements by leaders of Religious Zionism that there will be a violent response to every breach of the ceasefire. This is due to mutual deterrence and Israel’s keenness to separate WB from GS. In WB, settlers’ violence against Palestinians is likely to increase, and with it the army’s complicity in acts of violence against Palestinians. The government will intensify settlement construction and perhaps legitimize many of the settlement outposts in WB. The government is not expected to take steps or decisions to annex areas of WB and its cooperation with the PA will decline.
3. Foreign Relations and National Security
Netanyahu will be in full control of these two issues. He will keep on strengthening Israel’s relations with the Arab countries that have normalized the relations, especially the Gulf countries, and he will not change the general orientation of Israeli policy towards the Ukrainian crisis. Netanyahu will try to maintain the stability of his foreign policy in order to relieve international pressure on his government because it includes an extremist party. Netanyahu will reiterate that it is he who will decide on foreign policy and national security issues, and he will not have confrontations with the US over the Iranian file, as talks over the nuclear file stumbled during the Lapid government.