Could Israel’s vote be the end for Netanyahu?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks through the Machane Yehuda market during a campaign event in Jerusalem on April 8, 2019. (AFP)
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Benny Gantz, center, leader of the opposition Blue and White Party, during a campaign event in Tel Aviv. (AFP)
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Benny Gantz, second left, of the leaders of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) political alliance leads a caravan of 100 bikers in Tel Aviv during a campaign event. (AFP)
Updated 09 April 2019
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Could Israel’s vote be the end for Netanyahu?

  • No matter who is chosen to form the next coalition, observers say there is not likely to be dramatic changes in Israeli policy vis-à-vis Palestinians
  • His proposal to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank may backfire, giving rival Benny Gantz the upper hand

AMMAN: Six million Israelis are expected to cast their votes for the 120-member Knesset (Parliament) on Tuesday, in an election with many ramifications for the country and the wider Middle East.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the four-time Israeli prime minister, is fighting for his political life to stay in power and delay indictments for fraud, bribery and breach of trust placed on him by Israel’s attorney general. Spooked, and under pressure from the rival Blue and White Party and its leader, former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, Netanyahu has pandered to the far right, promising to annex all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
While the election has been focused on individuals, the political system in Israel is parliamentary. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose job is normally symbolic, will decide which party leader he will ask to form a government.
The problem for Netanyahu is that if enough far right Israelis shift their votes to him and his Likud Party, this could lead to the loss of parliamentary seats for smaller partners in his potential coalition, who then might not pass the threshold of 3.75 percent of the votes needed to enter the Knesset.
Equally concerning for Netanyahu is his strained relationship with Rivlin, a political moderate who may turn to Gantz should the Blue and White win more votes.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has commitments from the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right, the two ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, and the Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu parties. The libertarian Zehut, led by a former Likud member, will almost certainly follow suit.
Ofer Zalzberg, a senior researcher at the International Crisis Group, said that while Netanyahu’s chances remain good, Gantz could still form a center-left government. “The critical question is not who will receive the most votes, but which party can convince 60 members of the Knesset to recommend its leader to form the next government,” he said.
It is possible neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will be able to form a coalition. In that case, either they will establish a government of national unity with a rotating premiership, or Rivlin will call a new election. History suggests that in a national unity government, Gantz would seek control of certain areas rather than demand Netanyahu adopt specific policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Zalzberg.
While Palestinian-Israelis will vote, they are not expected to make much of a difference unless they do so in large numbers. The Joint List, headed by Ayman Odeh and which won 13 seats in the last election, has been broken up into two lists, with the smaller group in danger of not passing the threshold.
Most observers believe that there is little reason to expect dramatic changes in Israeli policy on Palestine, no matter who leads the next coalition. However, Netanyahu’s statements about annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank have raised tensions.
“The settlements themselves are a war crime according to international humanitarian law,” said Dr. Anis Kassim, the publisher of the Palestinian Yearbook of International Law.
Ghassan Khatib, a senior member of the Palestinian People’s Party and a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News that the US had a legal responsibility to ensure that Netanyahu does not proceed. Khatib, who participated in peace talks in the 1990s, said that if permitted, the US “would have violated the 1993 declaration of principles, of which Washington was a witness and a guarantor in terms of the integrity of the Palestinian territories.”
Martin Indyk, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, noted in a study by the Carnegie Middle East Center that, in the past, Netanyahu had resisted talk of annexing settlements, knowing the US would oppose it. “But by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, Trump has given them all a green light.”


Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 12 min 35 sec ago
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Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”