As Israel holds its parliamentary elections, all eyes are on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and whetheror not he can retain his position. No stranger to politics, Netanyahu has held onto power twice already since 2009 and is trying to become the nation’s longest-serving head of state.
Against him, retired General Benny Gantz has given Netanyahu staunch competition. After forming a new, centrist party, the Blue and White alliance, Gantz has highlighted his role in the fight against Hamas several years ago. He portrays himself as tough on security and while the incumbent has painted the challenger as “leftist,” Gantz declared, “There’s no more left and right. Israel before all.”
For his part, Netanyahu has ran his campaign under the premise of a blossoming Israel. Indeed the economy has grown considerably under his leadership with an increase in trade, rise in salaries, and decrease in unemployment. Recently, however, there’s been a cloud building over Netanyahu’s reign as the attorney general has begun preparing indictments in what essentially amounts to bribery charges.
If he holds onto power, Netanyahu has openly stated that he would annex more parts of the West Bank where Israelis are settled, the first such official extension of Israeli power since 1967.
“I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” Netanyahu said. “From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”
Currently 400,0000 Israelis are living in the West Bank alongside 2.8 million Palestinians. Further annexation would seem to render a two-state solution impossible, something that has long been the goal of both sides.
On the other hand, Gantz has given voters the idea that he would give some territory to Palestine in the pursuit of peace. Promoting himself as a clean alternative to Netanyahu, namely free of the inevitable corruption charges, Gantz has also made it a point to pledge reforms across various levels of government. For starters, he will put the Civil Union Law into place which will allow gay marriage, pass a Moral Turpitude law barring anyone convicted of a crime of moral nature from holding public office, and will also impose a term limit for prime minister.
On a whole host of education-related issues, Gantz has devised reforms including government subsidization of daycare centers. A longer school day and expanded summer school program are also hallmarks of his campaign.
Polls have held the two candidates neck and neck going into the election. Gantz’ new party is aided with the likes of two other retired generals, a former finance minister, and former defense minister.
Netanyahu has to contend not only with Gantz’ campaign, but also with the praise that he himself piled on Gantz in recent years. Despite referring to him now as “insane,” Netanyahu once approved Gantz for appointment as chief of staff and said, “Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz is an outstanding officer and an experienced commander.”
When Gantz retired, more praise poured from Netanyahu including a hope that he would one day return to the service of the Israeli people. Now that day might have come in a way that Netanyahu couldn’t have prepared for.
Further rocket attacks including one at Tel Aviv, the first destined for it since 2014, have left a sour taste in the mouths of many Israeli voters. Following the attack, a poll reported 54 percent of respondents who did not approve of the Netanyahu administration’s handling of security issues. This, taken with another survey that found the Israel Defense Force’s response as too weak, may lead more voters toward Gantz’ camp.
“There is a historic need to change the government,” Gantz said on Monday. “[Netanyahu] launched a huge ‘oy gevalt’ campaign to stay in power despite the indictments, but we will not give him that.”
Going into the election, there’s a large question of whether or not Gantz’ party can secure a large enough bloc of parliament. Currently, Netanyahu’s party holds the largest part with 30 seats. A large factor in the election will be the Arab turnout which stood at 63 percent last election.
This time might be different, however due to boycott calls among young Arabs.
“I tell Arabs, ‘Don’t get into the struggle between two racist bodies. They are competing between them over how much they hate us,” said political activist Aleef Sabbagh.
A boycott among Arabs could leave Netanyahu’s party with two or three more seats in parliament. Even if Gantz’ party secures enough seats in parliament, Netanyahu could do the same as he did before when the centrist Tzipi Livni won in 2009. After Livni’s party held the most seats, Netanyahu only had to coordinate with other parties to form a coalition capable of preventing Livni from forming a government. In this scenario, even if he loses, Netanyahu can still come out on top and keep a clutch on his power for a few more years.