There is a popular saying in Israel: “Third time ice cream.” When you meet someone for the third time within a short period, you get ice cream to celebrate that third meeting. Or at least, you talk about getting ice cream.
Well, on Monday, we all met again at the polls, for the third time in less than a year, to try and elect a Knesset and a Government that would take Israel out of the stalemate it has been stuck in for such a long time. I have written about this issue several times over the past year and have expressed disgust over the various tactics and behaviors of our politicians, from all sides of the political spectrum. But before I get into a review of where we stand today, after this third election, I want to share with you about my election night.
For more years than I can count, each time there is an election, Ed and I get together with two other couples, eat dinner together, traditionally a BBQ, and then watch the first exit polls which are publicized at 10 PM, just as the polls close. We are all right-wing, settlers ourselves, and always concerned that the new government will support our vision of the Land of Israel, settled and developed in fulfillment of prophecy. We are sometimes disappointed, sometimes thrilled and sometimes unsure of what the future will bring.
Third time Ice cream! And we celebrated. Since we were doing this for the third time in less than a year, we decided to forgo the BBQ in exchange for a lighter, healthier meal. But dessert was ice cream—to mark this third election and our third such gathering in less than a year. Just before 10 we turned on the TV and sat there, biting our nails and wondering—would Bibi pull it off this time? The exit polls were very encouraging. They predicted 60 seats out of 120 for the Right-wing bloc, including the Likud and the other right-wing and religious parties. And Likud showed a strong number in the exit polls — 37 seats as compared to 33 for Blue and White.
But as the actual results started coming in, the picture changed enough to make a significant difference. As I write this, with just under 100% of the votes counted, the right-wing bloc has only 58 seats, the left and Yisrael Beteinu have a total of 47 seats and the Arab party has grown to an unprecedented 15 seats. When it looked as if the right-wing bloc would command 60 seats, there was talk of finding one MK who would consider defecting from their center or left-wing party to join the Likud, giving the Likud the 61 seat majority it needed to form the next government. But today, with only 58 seats, it is far less likely that 3 MK’s will defect. And, at the same time, Blue & White whose members include right, center and left MK’s (as odd as that sounds) insist they will not join any government led by Netanyahu. Yisrael Beteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, whose entire party is right-wing, has declared the same. We are back where we started—stalemate.
When all of this began last April, I was convinced that the parties who refused to sit with Netanyahu were honestly concerned with the fact that he has been accused of bribery and lesser corruption charges. And I totally sympathized with this sentiment. After all, no one wants to see a prime minister accused of such terrible crimes.
It was clear from the beginning, that the charges rested on shaky ground and that Netanyahu may well succeed in proving his innocence or at least reducing the charges to far more minor, administrative wrong-doing. However, there was also talk in the media that Netanyahu was going to seek immunity from the charges for as long as he was in office, effectively using his office as a shield from prosecution. And, in fact, Netanyahu did attack the prosecutors and the police, alleging prejudice and disparaging their integrity. While this may be a reasonable claim on Netanyahu’s part, it did not inspire confidence in those who trust the existing judicial system and would like to see politicians respect their integrity as well.
However, a few weeks ago, when the charges were actually brought, Netanyahu decided not to seek immunity and the trial will, in fact, begin shortly. Netanyahu will have his day in court. And while it is clearly not a pretty site to see a prime minister in court on criminal charges, the law clearly allows the prime minister to remain in office until there is a final verdict against him. Until that time, he retains the right to defend his innocence and prove it.
For me, this decision on Netanyahu’s part to stand trial made all the difference. He has the right, like any other citizen, to try and prove his innocence. If he succeeds, we all benefit. If not, at that point, he would be forced to resign.
The parties that are refusing to sit in a government with Netanyahu, are not refusing to sit in a Likud government. They are merely boycotting Netanyahu. The ideological differences are minimal and can be settled, especially if the Likud and the other right-wing parties have a major role in the government. This is personal. And while they all claim that the basis for their refusal is ethical, that they refuse to countenance a prime minister who has been charged with corruption, what they are actually saying is that they do not trust the court system to discover his true guilt or innocence. They want to play judge and preempt the final verdict. This is not fair, nor is it ethical.
I have criticized Netanyahu for not taking the interests of the country into account in deciding to continue as prime minister despite the stalemate. But the country has voted and the Likud, headed by Netanyahu, has received the largest number of seats of any other party. This is the first election that took place after the charges were brought and after Netanyahu accepted his responsibility to stand trial. And given that, the country voted overwhelmingly to support a Likud-led government. The Joint Arab List gained 15 seats — they are an anti-Zionist party that sides with our enemies. It is unthinkable that Blue & White, a truly Zionist party, would join forces with them.
So where does that leave us? Three times Ice Cream but what about a 4th time? There is no precedent for any of this. I can only hope and pray that the politicians will find a way to join hands and do what is right for this country. We have a tiny window of opportunity. We have the blessing of the US Government to annex vital areas of Judea and Samaria. But without a stable Israeli government, we cannot do anything. And who knows if Trump will still be president in 2021? Will we squander this amazing opportunity? What a mess!