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Gerald Steinberg, the President of NGO Monitor gives Israeli Election Analysis at JNF Webinar -Corruption Issues Did Not Hurt Netanyahu

by Rhonda Spivak

Gerald Steinberg, the President of  NGO Monitor and a professor of  Political studies at Bar-Ilan University spoke at a webinar organized by JNF Canada and Jerusalem U on April 10, and gave his analysis of the Israeli election results.
 
 
Although Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party and Netanyahu's Likud party each received roughly the same number of  mandates, "Netanyahu essentially won" because the majority of smaller parties will support Netanyahu as Prime Minister and he will be able to form a "right-wing coalition." (Editor's note The final election results have the Likud at 36 mandates, with Blue and White at 35). 
 
Steinberg said "Netanyahu ran a very successful campaign" and "played up" his experience in foreign affairs. Netanyahu has been able to maintain an important relationship with the Russia's Putin and with the U.S.'s Trump. On the other hand, Steinberg said that Benny Gantz "didn't run a great campaign."
 
Regarding issues of corruption, Steinberg pointed out that "there is no evidence" that corruption issues "hurt Netanyahu." His message to the Attorney General will be that you can't unseat a Prime Minister recently elected. Steinberg also spoke about the fact that we would have to wait and see if Netanyahu is indicted and has to step down. "We need to see how the judicial process affects the political process," Steinberg said, adding that "Netanyahu may need to step down if there's an indictment." Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended in February that Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a series of criminal investigations. (Editor's note:  It is also not clear  whether Netanyahu intends to try to use legislation to try to stave off the threat of his imminent indictment. He could seek to use the existing Knesset immunity law, which requires a simple majority to protect any MK from prosecution. But such a move would immediately prompt petitions to the Supreme Court.)
  
Steinberg added that  Israelis know that Trump is set to unveil his peace plan, and  they had to ask themselves "who do you want to have to negotiate that deal." In the final analysis Israelis said  that they "didn't want to take the risk" of  having a new Prime Minister "that has no experience" in negotiating. Steinberg added that Gantz is a former Chief of Staff and when another former Chief of Staff  Ehud Barak tried to negotiate a deal with Arafat, that "didn't end well."  Steinberg noted that Netanyahu has been successful in getting Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Steinberg added that Netanyahu's message was "vote for me if you want to have a strong government."
 
In Steinberg's assessment Trump impacted the election results. "He gave Netanyahu 2-3 seats more than he otherwise would have gotten," Steinberg stated, noting that the US recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights during the election campaign.
 
According to Steinberg, Israelis asked themselves whether they really wanted "to risk" a new Prime Minister dealing with Trump who doesn't have a relationship with him, unlike Netanyahu who has a close relationship with Trump. Israelis decided it wasn't time to try a political novice to negotiate with Trump and the Palestinians. Trump may well say that Israel needs to make sacrifices for a peace treaty, and Netanyahu may be able to meet Trump  part way.
 
Regarding a two state solution, Steinberg noted that Netanyahu endorsed this in 2009 and "then dropped it." According to Steinberg, "maybe 2/3 of Israelis are willing to relinquish territory of some sort."  However, in Steinberg's estimation the Palestinian Authority "hasn't put anything on the table."
  
Steinberg was asked whether Netanyahu would move to fulfill his election eve pledge to apply Israeli law to all West Bank settlements. Netanyahu made the promise in part to drive right-wing voters away from parties such as Naftali Bennett’s New Right party and toward Likud, a tactic which evidently was successful. However, Steinberg says he would be "surprised" to see Netanyahu himself actually  take this step of applying Israeli law to all the settlements. "I don't see this as policy," he said, adding that this issue will totally depend on what Trump comes up with. ( Note that  Netanyahu has asserted in interviews, that he might be able to win the support of US President Trump for annexation of West Bank settlements, much as Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in 2017, and over the Golan Heights recently.)
 
Netanyahu is already in negotiations with his coalition parties. The ultra-orthodox parties won a combined 15 seats and will be part of the coalition, as will the other religious party, the Union of Right-Wing Parties.The New Right party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked did not pass the electoral threshold
 
Netanyahu can add five more seats to his government if Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu were to join, which it is widely expected to do. But Liberman, a former defense minister left the last government in November since he "thought Netanyahu was too weak in his response to Hamas in Gaza," Steinberg explained. Lieberman is back with fewer seats and Steinberg said "I would not be surprised to see him back as Defense Minister or Foreign Minister." He also noted that "I am not sure he [Netanyahu] wanted Liberman back but he'll deal with it."
 
On the subject of  the |Labour party which obtained only 6 seats, Steinberg indicated that he thought Labour would change its leader. He also pointed out that Israel was burned badly in the Oslo process in which it was involved.  "The Oslo process was a failure" and this failure is "still relevant" today
 
When asked whether he thought it was likely that Netanyahu would hold onto multiple ministries, Steinberg responded "I hope not."
 
Steinberg also noted that the focus of the election was on political and security issues, and issues of future boundaries of the state, and not on economic issues such as housing affordability. "I do not see any major improvement under Netanyahu" regarding issues of housing affordability. However Steinberg credited Netanyahu with "opening up  the Israeli economy" and  said "he helped get the high tech sector going."
 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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