Deciding Netanyahu's fate
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival. New elections to the Knesset are scheduled for 17 September – for the second time this year, after Netanyahu was unable to form a government at the first attempt in April. Only a clear election victory can save him from the threat of corruption charges and with it, a potential prison sentence.
And so Netanyahu is relying even more on attacks – especially against the Arab Israeli minority. "They are stealing the elections from us" is the most recent allegation that the prime minister has used to justify the attempt to rush through a law allowing video surveillance of polling stations.
A tame government committee gave the nod to the draft law, despite objections from legal experts and the central electoral committee, who rejected as baseless the accusation that Arabs tended towards electoral fraud. A Knesset panel then blocked the proposal to pass this highly problematic law through parliament so soon before the election date. If it had not, then the supreme court would very likely have overturned it for violating the secrecy of the ballot.
Netanyahu's fear of losing his immunity
Such considerations are admittedly not deterring the prime minister from continuing to stir up resentment with his camera campaign. Just as he did in 2015, when he mobilised his own right-wing voters with the rallying cry: "The Arabs are going to the polls in droves". Opposition politicians expressed another suspicion, namely that Netanyahu was laying the groundwork so that if he was defeated, he could claim that the election result had been manipulated.
"There’s no doubt that Netanyahu is frightened of losing his majority and thereby, his immunity," says Achmed Tibi, probably the best-known Arab member of the Knesset. "Change is in the air." Tibi’s optimism comes from the fact that the Arab parties have once again managed to agree a united list. Last time, they ran separately, unable to agree on a joint list of candidates.
In displeasure at the quarrels between their political representatives, many Arab voters stayed at home. The result: Balad, which is left-wing nationalist and the smallest of the Arab parties, had a hard struggle to make it over the 3.25% hurdle into the Knesset. A strong turnout from the Arab minority, who represent 20% of the Israeli population, could shift the balance of power towards the opposition this time around.
Who has the most support in parliament?
Israel electoral arithmetic is already complicated by the number and variety of parties represented. Nine, if not ten of them, will probably make it into the Knesset. The deciding factor here is not so much whether Netanyahu’s right-wing conservative Likud or the moderate coalition Kahol-Lavan (Blue and White) led by ex-chief of general staff Benny Gantz do better. In the end, what counts is who has the most support in parliament, and will therefore be tasked by the president with forming a government.