An Israel policy discussion

Dr. Einat Wilf, former MK, member of the Jewish People’s Policy Institute and an excellent analyst of the Israeli political scene, spoke at AACI Netanya on “Policy priorities for Israel’s next government.”  She started off by saying that she has never seen an Israeli election that had less serious policy discussions than this one.  This is my summary of her talk.

She questioned the need for the election, and indicated that not only did PM Netanyahu not want this election, those that engineered it are not doing so well, namely FM Lieberman of Yisrael Beitanu and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid.  In effect they miscalculated.    There has been little or no real discussion of the security situation.  Apart from PM Netayahu’s controversial speech to the US Congress, nothing much has been said about the security situation.  It’s as if the Palestinians have slipped off the map of Israeli consciousness.  And following the speech, her analysis has veered away from the ostensible reason for the speech, namely the Iranian nuclear threat.  She now thinks the main reason for the speech was to interject Israel as a serious power player in the Middle East due to the retraction and abandonment of the region by the Obama Administration.  Facing several threats, including Iran and IS, Netanyahu seized the opportunity to project Israel as a potential substitute for US influence in the region.  This has certainly been taken up by the major Sunni powers, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States, that have endorsed Netanyahu’s criticism of US policy under Obama.

The major focus of discussion in the election has been on domestic policy, and particularly the price of housing,  But, she questioned the sincerity of this debate, since it is the market and the owners who stand to lose if the price of housing decreases substantially, and they don’t want this.  Most Israelis are home owners and are against a drop in the price of housing, so actually the price will not decrease significantly, whatever measures the Government tries to implement.  Nevertheless, among lacklustre campaigns, that of Lapid of Yesh Atid has been consistently focussed on the domestic issues and may help him gain more seats.  Mordechai Kahlon of Kulanu is also competing in the Center, but has not done so well, he is hoping to be the man on the white horse who rides in when everyone else is unable to form a government.

Einat indicated that there are no small changes to the electoral system, even the rise of the threshold from 2.5 to 3.5% of the vote, ensuring parties with less than 4 seats are eliminated, is a major change.  This has led to the formation of a joint Arab bloc for the first time that could be the third largest party in the Knesset, and could engender major changes in the Israeli political scene.   It is impossible to predict the outcome, more this time than ever before.  While the Center-left Zionist Union bloc has 2-4 more seats than Likud, the right as a whole have more seats projected than the left.   So either side could try to form a government.  Also, what the religious parties, Shas, United Torah Judaism and others decide to do will have serious consequences for coalition building.  So it is impossible to predict the outcome and we will have to wait with baited breath for the actual election results next Weds.

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