A recent survey conducted by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute indicated that 62 percent of Israelis support the parties they voted for in September joining a Blue and White Party-led government coalition. That includes nearly half of supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and two-thirds of supporters of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Avigdor Lieberman, who has called for a unity government between the two largest parties and his own.
Most recently, Lieberman presented an ultimatum to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Netanyahu, stating that if they don’t make compromises in order to form a coalition together, he would back the other candidate for prime minister. Likud called the ultimatum a “bluff.” Meanwhile, Gantz’s charge to establish a government expires on Nov. 20, when the Knesset would be asked to vote, as individual members, on a prime minister. They would have 21 days in which to vote before a third election would be called.
In an article published last month on the IDI website, President Yohanan Plesner wrote, “Every deadline that we pass without the formation of a new government brings us closer to a new election. Sadly, this would have sounded like science fiction just a few months ago, but it might soon become reality.”
Another factor influencing the ongoing coalition negotiations is the possibility that Netanyahu will be forced to defend himself against several corruption charges. Plesner doesn’t see Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announcing his decision about possible indictments against Netanyahu before Gantz’s Nov. 20 deadline. “It takes time to form a government, at least five days, so by the end of this week,” Nov. 15, Plesner told the AJT from Israel. “I can’t see that happening.”
Most of this month’s IDI survey focused on what Plesner calls the “ongoing political crisis” in Israel. Even after national elections in both April and September, no politician has been able to establish a government. This has caused a sense of instability in the country, having seen municipal elections in October 2018 and an early call for national elections immediately afterwards. Now there’s talk of a third election to be held early next year, although voters express exhaustion with the process.
There’s talk of alternatively holding a vote, during which the electorate would be asked to specifically select a prime minister, rather than choose political parties – the norm for Israel. Plesner said he believes that it would be “virtually impossible” for a prime minister to govern under those conditions. The first time Israelis voted directly for prime minister was in 2001. In the following two elections, in 1996 and 1999, they voted separately for prime minister and for the party of their choice.
Plesner points out that the IDI had always been opposed to the concept of direct elections for prime minister and was instrumental in cancelling direct elections. “It caused huge damage with more indecision, fragmentation and a decline in the two major parties,” he said. “We want electoral reform, but our approach is to strengthen the two largest parties by determining that the leader of the winning party would automatically become prime minister.”
As it stands, because he had support from more Knesset members, Netanyahu had the first opportunity to cobble together a majority government after the September election. When he failed, the task was given to Gantz and the Blue and White party, which received the most votes in the election.
Plesner said that the most surprising answer Israelis gave in the organization’s monthly survey was that they have less faith in U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to their country’s security. In answer to the question about the extent they believe Israel’s security is a central consideration for the Trump administration in formulating U.S. foreign policy, the majority of Israelis no longer believe that is true.
In May 2017, not long after Trump became president, 54 percent thought Israel’s security constituted a central consideration for him when formulating foreign policy. In the Israeli Voice Index last month, however, 51 percent said they now believe Israel’s security is not a central consideration for the U.S. president.
“I was surprised by the extent of the decline in the perception of Israelis about the president’s commitment to Israel’s security,” Plesner told the AJT. He believes that it was Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. military from Syria that impacted that perception. “The withdrawal was a reflection of the broader American trend to reduce its presence and role in the region, which started with former President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia,” Plesner said. “The decision to pull out of Syria and desert the Kurds worried Israelis.”
The lack of faith in President Trump’s security support comes despite his seemingly supportive political moves that included moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and supporting Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights – both marking a dramatic change in longstanding U.S. foreign policy.