Israel’s big political earthquake is coming after Hamas war – analysis – Israel News

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Israel is on the verge of a political earthquake.

Like all earthquakes, you don’t know exactly how it will unfold or when it will hit, but you know it’s coming. The colossal catastrophe of October 7 has made a tectonic shift in the country’s political landscape all but certain.

Common sense dictates this conclusion, historical precedent affirms it, and the polls show its inevitability.

One need not be a brilliant sociologist to feel that something dramatic has changed in Israeli society. The Israel of December 20 is not the Israel of October 6 — everyone realizes that. Its self-confidence has been hit, its sense of security has been dented, and its trust in its political and military leaders has been shattered.

The country is hurting, worried, and angry. There is a burning hatred toward Hamas, and there is seething anger toward the government — how could this have happened? How could Israel have failed so miserably?

One indication of the whirling anger is the reluctance of government ministers and Knesset members to make public appearances. There are not a lot of high-profile politicians visiting the injured in hospitals or even attending funerals these days — things very common in the past — because of concern about the reactions they will meet.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya, December 17, 2023 (credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/POOL VIA REUTERS)
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It will be impossible for the government — for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — to ignore this anger; anger that will inevitably erupt into a flood of protests and demonstrations when the reservists return from Gaza and the intensity of the fighting in Gaza wanes.

Netanyahu was asked at one of his recent press conferences whether he would step down after the war. He answered, as he does when asked these days any question about politics, that he is now preoccupied with waging the war, and not thinking about politics. And then he added that he received a mandate from the public to govern.

That mandate was from pre-October 7, Israel. Post-October 7, Israel will demand a chance to repeal or reaffirm that mandate.

The possible precedent to Israel’s future

Israel has been here before, which is why it is safe to say that a political earthquake is on its way.

In October 1973, Israel faced a similar catastrophe — the Yom Kippur War —  which upended society, causing burning anger and frustration. In the elections held just two months after the war — elections that were postponed during the war — the ruling Labor-led Alignment of Golda Meir — the party that had dominated the country’s politics since its founding — lost five seats and Menachem Begin’s Likud picked up seven.

Meir resigned a few months later after the interim findings of the Agranat committee were released, and Yitzhak Rabin was elected Labor Party leader, taking over as prime minister. The government fell two years later, and then in 1977, the country — still traumatized from the Yom Kippur War and seething from the failures of the government and military leaders in the run-up to the Yom Kippur War — went back to the polls.

In that election, the Alignment lost a whopping 19 seats, Menachem Begin’s Right-wing Likud picked up four, and a political realignment swept over Israel, a political realignment that has held — with a few brief intervals of Left-wing governments — for most of the last half-century.

It is fair to say that the failure of October 1973 helped usher in Begin and the Likud control of politics for much of the next 50 years. In the same sense, it is fair to predict that the failure of October 2023 will lead to the end of Likud’s long grip on power.

The October 7 massacre will definitely not be pushing the country to the Left, in any way similar to the Yom Kippur War and the failure of the left-wing government pushed the country into the arms of the Likud and the Right. But it will lead to something different. The country’s political constellation will change, even if the Right-Left balance is unlikely to change significantly. There will be a shifting of chairs on the Right, Left, and center decks, even though the overall size of those decks is unlikely to change significantly

What is likely to change, however, is the stars in the political constellation. Much of the polling these days, polling showing that Benny Gantz’s National Unity is far ahead of any of the current parties in the Knesset, is asking respondents who they would vote for based on the existing parties.

And when asked in this way, Gantz’s party soars, Likud and Yesh Atid fall precipitously, as does the Religious Zionist Party, while Yisrael Beiteinu adds seats, and Otzma Yehudit, the Arab parties, and the haredi parties remain pretty stable.

But that is when those queried are asked about the current parties. But there will be other parties in the mix the next time around.

First of all, Gantz’s party — which is averaging about 39 seats in the major polls, as opposed to Likud’s 18 — is expected to split in two, with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which joined Gantz in the last election, widely expected to split off and run as a liberal right-wing party, perhaps with former prime minister Naftali Bennett. Such a party would put a big crimp in Gantz’s numbers. 

Secondly, there will be other parties as well: former Mossad head Yossi Cohen may lead a party, and Meretz’s Yair Golan, whose stock rose considerably following his courageous actions during the October 7 fighting, may lead a unified left-wing party. There is also talk of a party being formed from the leaders of the anti-judicial reform protest movement.

The parties contesting the election next time will be quite different from the line-up the last time around.

With the current Netanyahu government coming up to only its first-year anniversary on December 29, some Likud stalwarts may be saying, “What is all the talk about new elections, we still have three years to go?”’

But to think the current government and Netnyahu can withstand the public’s anger and frustration and last out its term, or even come close to lasting out its term, is indulging in tooth fairy-like wishful thinking.

An Israeli Democracy Institute poll on Tuesday shows that just over two-thirds of the public (69%) thinks that new elections should be held immediately after the war. While it is obvious that those on the Left and in the Center would like to see immediate elections, what is surprising is that 51.5% of those who identify themselves as right-wing want to see new elections as well, showing the degree to which there is anger and a desire to see those responsible held accountable.

The only path to new elections now would be for the Knesset to dissolve itself as a result of the coalition losing its majority and unable to pass legislation.

There is, however, another way of bringing down the government, and that is through a constructive vote of no-confidence, whereby 61 MKs vote no confidence in the current government and agree on a new prime minister who would then be entrusted with the task of forming a new government. In this scenario, the government would change without  the public going back to the polls. 

Governments also fall in Israel if they are unable to pass a budget, something not relevant for the current government since it passed a two-year budget in May giving it a pass on this issue until 2025.

Some may look at the above options and say that there is no chance of new elections: the budget has already  passed and the government is unlikely to dissolve itself.

Unless there is massive pressure from the grassroots for it to do just that — something that given the current sour public mood is a real possibility.

 According to the IDI poll, 44% of the population said they would take part in demonstrations if a wave of protests breaks out after the war to hold the political and military echelon responsible. Tellingly, 28% of Likud voters said they would participate in these demonstrations.

Those poll numbers indicate that much of the public will not, after the war, allow the Israeli political scene to return to what it was beforehand.

As Likud MK and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head Yuli Edelstein said in a Yediot Ahronot interview on Friday, “’I don’t think that everyone in the political system internalized the magnitude of the event — October 7 changed everything in the country, but this sentence has not been entirely internalized.”

According to Edelstein, anyone who thinks that things will return to business as usual after the war is mistaken. “I truly believe business will not be as usual,” he said. “Not in the Knesset, and not in politics in general.’

A political earthquake is on its way. The question is not if; the question is when.

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