Financial Times Europe - 19.09.2019

(Jacob Rumans) #1

Thursday19 September 2019 ★ FINANCIAL TIMES 3


B


enjamin Netanyahu, champion of Israel’s ever
more radical right, may have failed to squeak
back into power for a fifth term in the rerun of
the inconclusive election in April.
Now, as then, the 120-member Knesset looks
deadlocked, with Mr Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party
and the centrist Blue and White coalition led by former
army chief Benny Gantzneck and neck, and still incom-
plete results suggesting neither bloc has a 61-seat majority.
Once again, Avigdor Lieberman, a former Netanyahu
ally bent on ending the Likud leader’srun, looks to hold
the balance of power. It was he who pulled the plug on Mr
Netanyahu in April, demanding as the price of his support
curbs on the religious right and an end to the de facto
exemption for ultraorthodoxmen from army service.
Now, however, his secular rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu
(Israel Our Home) party looks to have increased its tally,
and Mr Lieberman is floating the idea of a grand coalition
with Blue and White and a Likudshorn of Mr Netanyahu.
It is too early to write off the Likud leader, who is in the
fight of his life. Israel’s attorney-general will decide next
month whether to indict Mr Netanyahu on charges of brib-
ery, fraud and breach of trust — while coalition negotia-
tions will probably still be going on.
Mr Netanyahu hasa knack of getting out of scrapes. As
in April and in 2015 , he used the politics of fear to paint
Israel’s Arab citizens, a fifth of the population, as disloyal.
This looks to have backfired, moving Arab voters to lift a
Joint List Arab coalition into third place. He also played up
Iran as an existential threat. ust as inflammatory wereJ
pledges to annex the Jor-
dan Valley and all Jewish
settlements in the occu-
pied West Bank. That
wouldend anyhope of an
independent Palestinian
state. While he has made
such promises before, his
“Greater Israel” project
has become mainstream
as the country has lurched rightward. US president Donald
Trumphas legitimised land grabs in defiance of interna-
tional law by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jeru-
salem, thereby recognising all the Holy City, including the
occupied Arab east, as Israel’s capital.
Mr Trump also endorsed Israel’s sovereignty over the
Golan Heights. Under him, and with the rise of populism in
Europe that admires the Israeli right, the dreams of Israel’s
extremists have never been closer to reality.
But Mr Netanyahu still needs to show he can build a rul-
ing coalition with ultranationalist and religious far-right
groups. Exit polls and the count so far suggest he cannot
command a majority. But every last vote counts.
Likud has tried to heave the Otzma Yehudit ( Jewish
Power) party, a radically irredentist and racist group, over
the 3.25 per cent threshold for parliamentary representa-
tion. It has no MPs — for now. But if it gets over the hurdle,
the prime minister could have his majority.
The Blue and White coalition, learning from premature
celebrations in April, isawaiting full results. But Mr Gantz
says it is working towards a “broad unity government”.
He believes in keeping most of the settlements in the
occupied territories, as does Mr Lieberman. ut Mr Netan-B
yahu’s scorched earth route would lead to a single state, in
which Israel’s Arab citizens are second class and occupied
Palestinians have even fewer rights and come third. That is
a recipe for permanent instability and international isola-
tion that a more centristgovernment might seek to avoid.
Mr Netanyahu has, moreover, portrayed his rapport
with Mr Trump as an almost preternatural asset to Israel.
The US has used its veto at the UN Security Council more
than 40 times on the country’s behalf. But it would be rash
to believe the US will always be able to insulate Israel from
the consequences of subjugating another people.

david.gardner@ft.com

GLOBAL INSIGHT


ISRAEL


David


Gardner


Premier’s grab for


far-right lifeline risks


permanent instability


Under Trump,


the dreams of
Israel’s extremists

have never been
closer to reality

I N T E R N AT I O N A L


M E H U L S R I VA STAVA— JERUSALEM


Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future
hung in the balance last night, as a near-
complete vote tally from Tuesday’s gen-
eral election showed his path to a record
fifth term as Israeli prime minister
blocked, and rivals explored options to
dethrone him.
With about 80 per cent of the vote
counted, his rightwing Likud party
trailed the centre-right Blue and White
alliance, with 31 seats to 32.
Overall, the rightwing bloc that Mr
Netanyahu has ushered in to four prem-
ierships was six seats short of a majority
in the 120-seat Knesset, the second time
this year that Israelis have denied the
Likud leader the chance to form a gov-
ernment, as voters cooled to his brand
of Arab-baiting and braggadocio.
There was also a strong showing from
Avigdor Lieberman’s secular rightwing
Israel Beiteinu party, as the former
defence minister, who quit Mr Netan-
yahu’s coalition last year, emerged from
the vote as a potential kingmaker.
His nine seats could be crucial to a
new government, although Blue and
White co-leader Benny Gantz has
offered Likud the possibility of a unity
government. If that happens then Mr
Lieberman, who nearly doubled his
haul from April’s inconclusive elections,
could find himself superfluous.
The Joint List of Arab parties, loathed
by Mr Netanyahu’s voters, emerged as
the surprise package of the election,
taking 13 seats to become the third larg-
est faction in the 120-member Knesset.
Yet they are unlikely to be invited to join
any government.
Mr Netanyahu yesterday sought to
hold his bloc together, saying all 55
rightwing MPs would enter a coalition as
a single entity, with him as prime minis-
terial candidate.
“Once we have established the right-
wing bloc, there are only two options: a
government led by me, or a dangerous
government that relies on the Arab par-
ties... A government that relies on the
anti-Zionist Arab parties must not be
established,” Mr Netanyahu warned.
Yet in order to form a government, he
would have to engage in coalition talks
with politicians he has spent the past
year deriding. Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s
president, is more likely to give Mr
Gantz the chance to form a coalition — a
process that could take several weeks.
Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, is fighting
for his legacy — and possibly, his per-
sonal freedom. If he fails successfully to
navigate the tortuous coalition talks
ahead of him, the 69-year-old will prob-
ably end up fighting a possible indict-
ment on corruption from the opposition
benches, beset by rivals within Likud,
and weighed down with the prospect of
jail. In two weeks, he must appear
before the attorney-general for a final
hearing before awaiting a decision on
whether he is to be charged. Mr Netan-
yahu has denied any wrongdoing.
The Knesset mathematics are against
him. The failure so far of Jewish Power, a
racist, anti-Arab party, to garner
enough votes to enter the Knesset
appears to have denied Mr Netanyahu a
coalition ally and ensured he has run out


of natural allies to unite with. The oppo-
sition is also short of the majority, but
they have more options.
The Blue and White party, an alliance
of three retired military chiefs and a
centrist, middle-class issues party,
clawed its way to the top of the polls by
vowing never to sit in a government
with Mr Netanyahu, especially if he was
indicted. Yet the veteran Mr Netanyahu
has excelled at shuffling coalitions with
pragmatic flexibility in four previous
premierships. In his favour are signed

pledges of loyalty from nearly all Likud
lawmakers, who have vowed to back
him despite the possible corruption
charges. He has time, according to
Lahav Harkov, a senior editor at the
conservative Jerusalem Post, but not
much. “If Netanyahu loses, and Likud is
not in government, then the knives will
be out,” said Ms Harkov.
But the lines that now divide Israeli
society preclude any alliance with the
ultraorthodox parties that would also
give Mr Netanyahu a parliamentary

majority. Mr Lieberman wooed secular
security hawks with a vow to blunt the
influence of the ultraorthodox minority,
which won 17 seats, not enough to push
Mr Netanyahu over the line.
Further, if Blue and White gets the
first chance to form a coalition, it makes
his task harder. “Netanyahu’s fate has
been sealed,” said Amit Segal, a oliticalp
commentator. “The countdown to the
end of the Netanyahu era has begun.”
One scenario being discussed within
Likud was to entice Mr Gantz and the
dozen or so MPs in his part of the alli-
ance, perhaps in exchange for a rotating
leadership with Mr Netanyahu, or a
deputy prime ministership, said one
person who had spoken to Mr Netan-
yahu recently about his plans.
While Mr Gantz, who is popular but
politically inexperienced, has offered a
warmer demeanour and less abrasive
personality, he is not dissimilar to Mr
Netanyahu on matters of national secu-
rity and the Palestinian issue. He
launched his campaign this year brag-
ging about bombing parts of the Gaza
Strip “into the stone age”.
It is a gambit that has worked in the
past for Mr Netanyahu. He convinced
former prime minister Ehud Barak to
split from the Labor party in 2011 with
enough of his loyalists to keep a prior
Netanyahu government afloat.
“There is a natural partnership
there,” said one Likud insider.

Election leaves future of Israel’s


Netanyahu hanging in balance


PM’s path to record fifth term appears blocked as rivals explore options to dethrone him


‘The
countdown

to the end
of the

Netanyahu
era has

begun’


SA M J O N E S— VIENNA


“Fair. Social. Loyal to the homeland,”
proclaimed banners in the Austrian city
of Graz at the weekend as1,000 dele-
gates of the far-right Freedomparty
(FPO) — some clad in traditionaldirndls
andlederhosen —votedoverwhelmingly
to endorse Norbert Hofer as their new
leader.
“We’re back!” declared Mr Hofer,
promising delegates the party would in
time become the largest in Austria.
Five months after acorruption scan-
dal that cost the FPO its then leader,
Heinz-Christian Strache, and ended its
18 months in government, the party is
once more on the verge of power — a
prime example of how anti-immigra-
tion nationalists have become estab-
lished forces within European politics.
Despite the“Ibiza affair”, in which Mr
Strache was caught in a sting operation
on the Balearic island soliciting covert
political support from Russia,polls
showone in five Austrians intends to
support the party inthe September 29


election. It would make the FPO, one of
Europe’s oldest far-right movements,
the likeliest choice to govern as a junior
coalition partner with the moderate
conservative Austrian People’sparty
(OVP) of former chancellor Sebastian
Kurz. He is expected to return to the
chancellery with 35 per cent of the vote.
“The Ibiza thing made people think
the FPO is toast, but they have an amaz-
ing capacity for coming back from the
dead,” said Heather Grabbe, director of
the Open Society European Policy Insti-
tute in Brussels.
“Nobody in Brussels is really paying
attention to the situation in Austria. But
really very often it is the canary in the
coal mine. The FPO is a harbinger. They
tend to come up with the narrative and
the style of communication that other
populist parties come up with later.”
The stability of the FPO’s vote has
taken some by surprise. While previous
scandals and setbackspushed its sup-
port into steep retreat, experts say this
timethe party’s messaging seems to
have taken root in many communities.
“They have really shown that they
have solidified their base,” said Thomas
Hofer, a political consultant. “They’ve
been able to do that, even after the scan-
dal, because they are really the first
party in Austria to have built up direct

channels of communication with their
voters, especially through social media.
Their messaging is very effective.”
Even in adversity, he noted, the FPO
responded in a way that reinforced its
core anti-establishment narrative.
“They are against him because he is for
you,” the party declared across social
media as Mr Strache was thrown out of
government.
The new leader is, as Austrians say,
someone who “eats chalk”: he has a soft

voice to deliver harsh messages. His
soft-spoken manners appeal in particu-
lar to moderate conservative voters,
ordinarily supportive of Mr Kurz’s OVP,
who decry Austria’s history of centrist
coalitions but are wary of the Freedom
party’s less savoury elements.
FPO adverts efer to Mr Hofer as “ourr
Norbert”. In Graz, the softly, softly
approach took a physical form: outside
the conference hall, a giant blue fluffy
bear — “the Norbear” — was handing
out party literature.

The party’s platform for theelection
treads familiar ground. Commitments
to stop mass migration remain the cen-
trepiece, bolstered bytopics such as ani-
mal welfare — shorthand for hostility
towards Halal food.
Its anti-establishment bent is also
front and centre of campaigning, with
pledges to reform state broadcaster ORF
and to break open thecentralised politi-
cal system via regular referendums.
But also prominent arepolicies to
appeal to the less well-off:more gener-
ous pension protection, cheaper trans-
port and tenancy reform.
One risk, however, is that a return to
government might undermine its
agenda rather than shore it up. “The
Freedomparty has grown as a party of
opposition,” said Anton Pelinka,former
professor of nationalism at the Central
European University. “Populism means
promising everything to everyone. In
government you can’t do that.”
Each time the FPOhas entered gov-
ernment, or come close, the moderate
messaging it has pursued has worsened
faultlines in its ranks, as in 2002, when
hardliners overthrew the leadership.
“It is more stable than it used to be but
do not forget the party has a history of
splitting,” said Mr Pelinka. “The party is
full of contradictions.”

Europe. opulismP


Austria’s nationalists set for return to power


General election projected results*
Knesset seats

      


Blue and White
(centre right)
Likud
(right wing)
Joint List
(Arab-Israeli)
Yisrael Beiteinu
(secular right wing)
Shas
(ultra-orthodox)
United Torah Judaism
(ultra-orthodox)
Yamina
(right wing)
Labor-Gesher
(left wing)
Democratic Union
(left wing)

Source: Haaretz * About  of votes counted

V I C TO R M A L L E T— PARIS

A push by President Emmanuel
Macron for France to harden its immi-
gration policies to reduce the influx of
foreigners has alarmed human rights
group and disconcerted the left wing of
his own centrist La République En
Marche (LREM) party.

Mr Macron has been hinting at tighter
curbs on immigration, including annual
quotas, sincethegilets jaunesdemon-
strations last year. The protests began as
a motorists’ campaign against green fuel
taxes but broadened into an anti-gov-
ernment movement that was joined in
its early stages by many supporters of
the far-right, anti-immigration Rassem-
blement National (RN) party.
Mr Macron old a meeting of hist
party’s parliamentarians it was time to
confront a crucial issue in French poli-
tics and be “extremely firm” in applying
asylum rules.
“The flows of migrants into Europe
have never been so low, while the
requests for asylum in France have
never been so high,” he said. “In pre-
senting ourselves as humanitarians, we
can sometimes be too lax.”
He complained about those who

manipulated France’s asylum system,
leading to a ig rise in unaccompaniedb
immigrant minors in some urban areas,
and warned his supporters against giv-
ing ammunition to Marine Le Pen’s RN.
“The question is whether we want to
be a middle-class party. The middle
class has no problem with [immigra-
tion]. They don’t really come across it,
but the working class live with it. The
left hasn’t wanted to look at this prob-
lem for decades, so working class people
have moved to the extreme right.”
Rights groups have publicly criticised
Mr Macron’s approach, and 15 LREM
members of the National Assembly
published ajoint statementcomplain-
ing that the issue of economic migrants
— as opposed to those escaping political
persecution — was being misused by
“those who want to emphasise feelings
of rejection linked to strangers and
Islam” and “engender hatred of all citi-
zens of the Muslim faith”.
Official figuresshow more than
114,000 people sought asylum for the
first time in France last year — triple the
number a decade ago, up more than a
fifth from 2017 and topped in western
Europe only by Germany. Only about
33,000 were granted asylum in 2018.

France


Macron’s immigration hard


line alarms rights groups


Freedom party’s softly spoken


new leader plots electoral


comeback after Ibiza scandal


Norbert Hofer:
his manners
appeal in
particular to
moderate
conservatives

Caught on
camera: a voter
takes a selfie
with his mobile
phone as he
casts his ballot
in Tel Aviv
CorinnaKern/Reuters
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