September 24, 2019

Bibi living on borrowed time, but little else will change
                                                By Simon Rosenblum*

Let's start with a quick review of the election results and do so by  placing the parties into their appropriate blocs.
Blue-White has 33 Knesset seats; Labour 6 and Democratic Union (essentially Meretz) 5. Total: 44.
Likud 31, Shas and United Torah Judaism (the two ultra-orthodox 
parties) 9 and 8 respectively, and Yamina (hard right) 7. Total: 55.
Joint Arab list 13
Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman) 8

These results are not much different from those of the April election and almost spot on with the polling data leading up to this one.
Until about 10 days before the September 17 election, I was concerned that, post election, the Likud-plus bloc would cut a deal with Lieberman, the ultra-rightist secular campaigner. In this nightmare scenario, Benyamin Netanyahu and Lieberman would join forces based on an agreement requiring more ultra-orthodox citizens to serve in the military. The ultra-orthodox parties would have been highly upset, but would have had to swallow the poison to stay in a coalition government. Netanyahu would have had the green light to make good on his election promise to formally annex parts of the West Bank.
Now, the danger of such a scenario has passed. The relationship between Netanyahu and Lieberman has broken down to the point that no side deal between them seems possible. As a result, no bloc, or combination of blocs, has the seats allowing it to achieve the magic number of 61, required for a parliamentary majority. The only way to break the deadlock and avoid another election is a power-sharing unity government. Exactly how the power is to be shared will be the source of much negotiation and posturing.
Netanyahu was quick off the mark by securing the allegiance of Likud and its natural allies to support him leading a unity government along with Blue-White. Nice try. His huffing and bluffing won't work because Bibi doesn't have the numbers to back him up. For his part, Blue-White leader Benny Gantz is calling for a "liberal" unity government, which would seem to preclude the ultra orthodox. Lieberman is demanding the same with his call for a broad secular government. Blue-White understands the need to power share with Likud, but insists it will not sit in the same government with Netanyahu in a leadership role.
President Reuven Rivlin now has to decide which main-party leader gets first chance to form a government. When he canvasses the new Knesset he will no doubt eventually find that over 60 of the 120 members want a unity government consisting primarily of Blue-White and Likud, with the prime minister position shared on a rotational basis and in which (and this is the kicker) Gantz gets the first rotation. (A caution here: Lieberman is always something less than predictable and will take his time making a commitment.) Presumably, in this scenario, Netanyahu would take over as PM during the second rotation. However, given Netanyahu's serious legal troubles, he is unlikely to be around for the take-over. He will either be in jail or have faded into the retirement sunset. Likud will by then have a new leader.
"Nicer rightists"
Will this mean a shift to moderation on peace issues? Not a chance. Likud's new leader is likely to be even more hawkish than Netanyahu. Plus, it must be understood, Blue-White is by no means dovish. It is a centre-right party. It is "Bibi light," which, as Ha'aretz reports, is what the broader Israeli public wants: "nicer rightists in power." This should come as no surprise. Research by Tamar Hermann at the Open University of Israel shows that 60% of Israelis now describe themselves as either "soft-right" or right-wing, while only 15% identifies with the left of the political spectrum. Similarly, polling from the Israeli Democracy Institute shows that the pursuit of peace appears "urgent" to only 15% of Jewish Israelis.
Even if there were a Palestinian partner ready, willing and able to negotiate an honourable two-state solution to the conflict (and there most certainly is not), Blue-White is light years away from being ready to make the necessary Israeli concessions. In fact, Blue-White did not say a word against Netanyahu's election talk about annexing the Jordan Valley of the West Bank. Blue-White also wants permanent Israeli ownership of the Jordan Valley, but does not see the need for formal annexation. With Blue-White at the helm, the conflict will continue, more or less the same but with less drama. Settlement expansion will probably proceed largely unabated. Bibi will be gone, but not much else will change. No happy end in sight. The work of the peace camp continues.
* Simon Rosenblum is a frequent commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a  
   founding member of CFPN and a former national chair.