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The people have spoken, let's listen carefully
By Yariv Oppenheimer

This week, in the shadow of the Corona crisis, the 23rd Knesset was sworn in and formally began its work. The swearing in of the Knesset ends a year of three rounds of elections, but, in contrast to what might have been expected, every round resulted in a different outcome, much like the voter turnout percentage which increased with each round and peaked in the 2020 elections. 

Two of the parties that will serve in the 23rd Knesset have declared their commitment to the two-state solution, their opposition to unilateral annexation initiatives, and their support for negotiations with the Palestinians: Labor-Meretz (6 seats in the Knesset, not including Orli Levi, who broke away) and the Joint Arab List (15 seats) – in total, 21 seats.

At the side of these two parties, Blue and White will serve in the Knesset (33 seats); the party has also declared its commitment to an agreed-upon solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, advancement of the peace process, and opposition to annexation without coordination with the international community. Benny Gantz himself reiterated during elections his willingness to promote peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians and to set in motion negotiations with Abbas. Together, these three parties compose 54 out of 120 seats in the Knesset.

On the other side, there are two parties that have declared their commitment to support annexation and oppose the idea of two states: Yamina (6 seats in Knesset) and the Likud (36 seats) – in total, 42 out of 120 seats.

The ultra-Orthodox parties over the last few years have taken a more hawkish stance on the conflict issue, and have established a political alliance with Netanyahu. Therefore, Shas (9 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7 seats) can also be included in the right-wing block, bringing it to 58 seats. 

There are two parties left in the middle, and it is still difficult to associate them with one block or the other: Orli Levi (1 seat in Knesset), who was elected by left-wing votes but chose to break away into an independent faction and will apparently join the right-wing block, as well as Yisrael Beiteinu (Liberman’s Party), which represents right-wing positions but has taken a stance against the parties of the ultra-Orthodox and settlers and is currently in a political alliance with Blue and White, which brings their block to 61 mandates. 

In terms of mandates, in comparison with earlier rounds of elections, the two-state camp in the Knesset reached 55 in the April 2019 elections, rose to 57 in the September 2019 elections, and decreased to 55 again in the 2020 elections. 

However, in terms of the number of votes, there is a consistent increase in those who support a peace process, from 1,810,332 in April 2019, to 2,026,702 in September, followed by a peak of support in the 2020 elections for the parties associated with the peace process, at 2,069,368 votes. The Joint List block was strengthened by 111,296 votes more than the last round, whereas Blue and White fell by 69,167. One of the main reasons for the rising number of voters in this block is the increase in voter turnout and excitement over the Joint List in the Arab sector, which reached a historic high of 64.7%, an increase of 5.5% from the previous round and 15.5% from the first round. 

The bottom line is that despite the attempt of actors on the right to depict a weakening trend, the peace camp in Israel is actually growing numerically with each election, and in the last elections the number of voters supporting the peace process reached its height. The way this is translated politically in the Knesset is of course different, and influenced by additional factors. 

In the Knesset, the camp identified with the settlers is represented by 6 mandates, while the camp explicitly identified with two states is represented by 21 seats; adding the large parties and taking into consideration the transition of Orli Levi, the ideological blocks stand at 54 and 58, with Lieberman in the middle. 

Here are two conclusions from the election results:

First – Arabs in Israel are becoming a powerful political force. They are the third largest party in Israel, with greater relative representation in the Knesset than percentage of the population. Their influence has grown and they are also demanding to be part of the system, as indicated by their recommendation of Gantz that included, for the first time, Balad as well. 

Second – The election results obligate either a change in government and the power relations within it, or fourth elections, which don’t seem realistic in the wake of the Corona crisis. The current government, which was last elected as far back as 2015, does not represent the positions of the public and does not express the strengthening of the two-state camp in the Knesset.  

Whether a government is formed under the leadership of Gantz or a unity government is formed with Gantz’s participation, the new government must concretely express the will of the public in supporting advancement of the peace process and opposing unilateral annexation. The formation of a right-wing government that continues to fully support the demands of the settlers while actively promoting annexation and the destruction of the two-state vision is not in accordance with the will of the public as expressed in the elections; it will only be possible as a transitional government, as it has been for the last year, in the event that Israel goes back to elections, round four. 

Yariv Oppenheimer is a political analyst, publicist and head of the Geneva Initiative's Two-State Coalition. He is also the former Director of Peace Now. 
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