Election results this third time around are similar to those of the previous two: 58 to the right and 62 to anti-Bibi parties that cannot sit together. There is no decision and no government. The difficulties are well known: a union between Gantz and Netanyahu is impossible because of Bibi’s indictments; a union between Gantz and the Joint List is impossible because a government including Arab ministers is unthinkable; and a union between Bibi and Lieberman is impossible, because Lieberman cannot forgive Bibi’s snitching to the police about him and his children last year. In short, as long as Netanyahu insists on remaining, the game will play out endlessly, like Sisyphus eternally re-pushing his rock up the mountain.
Bibi insists on staying, not only because the alternative is jail, but also because he knows that Gantz can’t unite the Bibi-haters. Moreover, because Bibi (unlike Gantz) has no inhibitions, he can humiliate Gantz while pulling rabbits out of his hat to steal mandates. It is not entirely inconceivable that a fourth round might give him the 61 mandates needed to end the Sisyphean torment. Bibi’s chances of siphoning votes from Gantz are greater than Gantz’s of flipping Likudniks.
Although nothing on the macro level has changed, some interesting things have happened on the micro level, and in the leftist camp. First, Labor and Meretz united. As the number of election rounds increased, so had the danger that Meretz wouldn’t pass the required threshold. The unbelievable occurred, Mapai and Mapam reunited. They then lost 4 of the 11 seats they had previously held as separate parties, winding up with 7.
In contrast, the Joint List swelled to an impressive 15 seats, winning 90 percent of all votes in the Arab sector. However, this historical achievement is neutered, because the stronger the Joint List becomes, the weaker become its partners in the anti-Bibi journey. The biggest beneficiaries of the third election round were the Likud and the Joint List. As a Palestinian blogger from Haifa wrote on Facebook, “A bigger Joint List = a bigger Likud”. The equation refers to a symbiosis. As the Joint List grew and “the Arabs flocked to the polling stations,” the right wing could play on fear to bring its own voters home. In turn, the more the right incites against Arabs, the more the Arabs vote in defiance and the larger the Joint List grows.
A notable result of this third act is the near disappearance of the Zionist left. Meretz’s deference to Gantz’s Blue and White resulted in leakage of votes to both Gantz and the Joint List. Not only did Meretz omit to place an Arab candidate in a realistic spot among its candidates, but it completely abandoned its message of opposing the occupation, instead merely joining the “not Bibi” choir. It lost its raison d’etre.
The litmus test distinguishing opponents of the occupation from its supporters is Trump’s Deal of the Century. Gantz’s Blue and White adopted the Deal with reservations, while Meretz mumbled its resistance but was ready to continue backing Gantz despite his support for annexing parts of the West Bank. Thus, Meretz decided that the good of Israel has priority over the good of the Palestinians, and that defending the rule of law by beating Netanyahu has priority over the rule of five million people who are shorn of their rights. Joining the Labor Party and its unconditional support for Gantz, Meretz implicitly accepted the Deal of the Century as the only show in town.
In contrast, the tremendous victory of the Joint List created great expectations: 15 seats, four Arab women in the Knesset, 570,000 votes, and third place, far ahead of the remaining parties—an impressive achievement! Quoted in Jacky Khoury’s article (Haaretz, 4 March 2020), Dr. Raif Zreick, a professor of law, says he “believes that at this point the Joint List is not sufficiently structured conceptually to provide a real alternative for the Jewish public. It is running for election by representing a particular sector, but will soon find itself in a position where the Israeli left expects it to lead Israel to another democratic alternative. The Joint List seems to have been tasked with something too big for it, it has not really thought this through and it is unclear whether it will want to and can play this central role. “
Raif Zreik’s insights do not come from nowhere. He knows full well that the power of the Joint List lies in its being an Arab list, and its voters flock to the polls because they are Arabs, just as 90 percent of the ultra-Orthodox choose United Torah Judaism, the Russians vote for Lieberman and the Mizrahis vote for Bibi. Once the Joint List tries to be “another democratic alternative,” as Raif Zreik predicts, it will cease to be “joint” and will disintegrate into its five component parties.
What characterizes the Joint List is a lack of agreed positions and a shared worldview on issues fundamental to modern society. The Islamic Movement, for example, will traditionally vote with United Torah Judaism on personal law and against LGBTQ rights; Ahmad Tibi’s party is an “Arab” party in the sense that it respects Arab tradition, just as it respects Jewish tradition; the National Democratic Alliance is a nationalist party that perceives Israeli society as a colonial one and denies Arab-Jewish cooperation; and although the Communist Party advocates for women’s and LGBTQ rights, for electoral purposes it speaks two languages. It demands democracy in Israel but supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria, such that it does not live up to its own principles. Anyone concerned with the well-being and continued existence of the Joint List must, therefore, accept it as a sectoral party, whose role is to gain budgets and equal treatment of Israel’s Arab population, nothing more.
The great accomplishment of the Joint List is that it helps Gantz to stop Bibi, thus contributing to the rule of law. Yet its basic positions, which negate the annexation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza while supporting Abu Mazen and Hamas, as well as its limitations on providing Israelis with a democratic alternative, do not allow it to be an active player in the Israeli political game. In the absence of 15 “kosher” mandates, a very large gap was opened in the anti-Bibi camp, leaving only one alternative: establishment of a unity government between Blue and White and a Bibiless Likud. This equation has not changed since the first round of elections, nor will it change in the fourth. The truth is that the success of the Joint List was not only due to Bibi’s incitement against it (as in the slogan “Bibi or Tibi”), but to its commitment to overthrow Netanyahu at any price, even if this meant recommending Gantz to form the government. The Joint List, like Labor-Gesher-Meretz, offered no alternative to Gantz, but linked itself to the camp he heads.
Therefore, “another democratic alternative” will not come from the Joint List, because such an alternative cannot arise as long as it defines itself ethnically—as Arab or Jewish. A democratic alternative must unite citizens of both ethnic groups on the basis of a democratic program, while adopting a liberal worldview: non-Islamic, non-Communist, non-Palestinian nationalist, and non- nationalist/religious Zionist. Its economic platform must be based on an equitable distribution of resources and a green economy like the Green New Deal in Europe.
Another democratic alternative cannot settle for negating the Deal of the Century, but must adopt a program that also negates the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and today strengthens Hamas in Gaza. These accords created an illusion of progress toward two states, but in effect left five million Palestinians without basic human and civil rights. What is at stake is either apartheid or one democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with equal voting rights for all. True, the task is difficult, as indicated by the fact that the Da’am Party got only a few hundred votes. Yet there is no alternative to a one-state solution, regardless whether Sisyphus’ rock tumbles back, next time, into Bibi’s court or Gantz’s.