Israel’s political stalemate is unmoved by the conflict with Hamas

(CNN)Hours before the first rockets were fired toward Jerusalem two weeks ago, the bloc of political parties trying to oust long-term Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power was cautiously optimistic. The group, led by former TV anchor Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, would be able to form a government within a week or two, or so they thought.

But then just after 6 p.m. on May 10, Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel, setting off air raid sirens not heard in Jerusalem for years. Soon after, Israel launched airstrikes against what it said were militant targets in Gaza. A bloody 11-day conflict was set in motion and the landscape of Israeli politics shifted.
Two days later, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the small right wing party Yamina, announced he could no longer negotiate with Lapid’s “change” coalition, because it would rely on the participation of a small Islamist party called Ra’am. Without Bennett, Lapid’s bloc would be short of the numbers needed to form a government.
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“If it were not for the eruption of violence, then probably today we would have a different government in place,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.
If Lapid isn’t able to form a government by June 2, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will send the mandate to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament where a member would need the backing of at least 61 members to form a government.
If the parliament is unable to nominate someone who can successfully form a government, then the country will head to yet another election later this year — the fifth since April 2019.
It would also mean that Israel will remain in the same political state it is in now, ruled by a dysfunctional unity government led by Netanyahu, until a new government is successfully formed. Netanyahu, who hosted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, has been on trial since last May on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges, all of which he denies.
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Yet the Israeli political situation is so atrophied that public opinion appears to have been barely moved by the conflict with Hamas or the eruption of intercommunal violence in mixed Arab and Jewish cities across the country.
Plesner said that in times of conflict, Israelis tend to rally behind the Israel Defense Forces and political leaders, expecting politicians to refrain from infighting. But such situations also radicalize public opinion, he added.
“People are less likely to accept solutions of compromise. Emotions of fear, distrust, and vengeance are becoming dominant and obviously that has a political effect of strengthening not voices of moderation, but rather radical voices generally on both ends of the spectrum,” Plesner said.
Two polls released just three days after the ceasefire was announced on May 20 suggest that the long-running political stalemate remains even after the conflict, and that Netanyahu and his Likud party got little or no political bounce out of the conflict with Hamas.
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The polls by two of Israel’s leading news channels 12 and 13, also suggest about half of Israelis believe neither side won the conflict, with 54% of Channel 13 respondents and 50% of Channel 12 respondents choosing that option. Similarly, just under half of respondents in both polls (48% for Channel 13 and 47% for Channel 12) opposed the ceasefire and said the operation should have continued.
Jason Pearlman, a media adviser who has worked both with Israel’s president and a number of Israeli political figures including Bennett, said the events of the past few weeks would not dramatically alter the results of an election if it were to be repeated, only bringing “the problems into sharper focus.”
“In other words, if [a ‘change’ government] was possible before, it still is. If it was impossible before, it still is. We’re just now even more painfully aware of why,” he said.

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