Israel's election impasse | When fake kidnappings go wrong

How a plot to fake a kidnapping left two men in Syria for three years; what does Israel's election result mean?

In this week’s Hat Tip—

  • Short News: Man who faked kidnapping was then kidnapped

  • Considering: Israel’s election results

  • Curious: Biden insider writes anonymous op-ed

Short News: Man who faked kidnapping was then kidnapped

  • Italian police arrested Fredi Frrokaj, Olsi Mitraj and Alberto Zannini for their part in a fake kidnap plot that turned into an actual kidnapping

  • The three men had offered to stage a kidnapping for Italian businessman Alessandro Sandrini, who was in trouble with the law, and split the ransom with him

  • They promised he’d live in a villa in Turkey, but instead he and another man got kidnapped by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Syrian jihadi group, who held them for three years.

  • Some reports said Sandrini was charged too.

Considering: Israel’s election results

The result

Israel held its fourth election in two years last week and, as expected it was indecisive.

Well, perhaps that’s not fair. The people have spoken again. And four times running, they’ve said essentially the same thing. The parties shift around, the characters change but the blocs have barely moved.

In mid-February I wrote:

The parties that are essentially guaranteed to back Netanyahu are currently polling at a combined total of 48 seats, well short of the bare minimum 61 needed for a majority….

On the other side, the anti-Netanyahu bloc consists of 51 seats(…) add Yemina to that and you get a just-about-workable 62 seat coalition.

However, this bloc contains a right-wing breakaway party from Likud (Gidon Saar’s New Hope), the centrist Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid, the left-wing Labor and lefter-wing Meretz. It has two candidates for Prime Minister in Lapid and Saar, with a possible third if Naftali Bennett’s Yemina seeks to join it and topple Netanyahu. It is challenging to imagine this bloc coalescing into a coalition around a single Prime Ministerial candidate.

Israeli polls are bad, and in this case they were bad in interesting and unexpected ways, disproportionately overstating the Right-wing anti-Netanyahu parties and largely underestimating the small centrist and centre-left parties. But it made little difference overall to the big picture which is, once again, a tie.

The blocs

Benjamin Netanyahu cannot form a majority coalition with the parties that openly support him, even with the addition of swing party Yamina.

Netanyahu can get to a small majority (63) if Raam, a small Islamist party, joins him. Netanyahu helped convince Raam to break away from the Joint List and built a friendship with the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas. But the far-right Religious Zionist Party is saying it wouldn’t join a coalition that relies on Raam, taking Netanyahu back to square one.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc has problems too. The largest opposition party, Yesh Atid, has 18 seats and is proposing its leader, Yair Lapid, as a PM candidate. But Yemina has ruled out joining Lapid, insisting that their leader, Naftali Bennett, should be the ‘change candidate’ despite winning just seven seats (6% of the vote) in the election. Otherwise they’ll join Netanyahu after all.

This is a very chutzpadik request. But it’s being seriously considered by the anti-Netanyahu parties anyway. Even if Yemina does join them, though, they still don’t have a majority without, yup, the Islamist Raam party again!

Abbas speaks

Tonight, Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas, delivered brief remarks which were carried by all Israeli news channels. Abbas knows that neither bloc can currently form a government without him, though he stressed he didn’t want to be a kingmaker. He said:

“I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society, courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples”

“I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and home to two peoples.”

“I don’t want to be part of any bloc — right or left. I am here in a different bloc: the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, that for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”

What now?

The formal process of forming a government begins on Monday, when the parties meet Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin.

The law says that Rivlin must consult the parties before asking one Knesset member to form a government.

  • It doesn’t say that the President must specifically seek recommendations, or that he has to ask the person who gets the most recommendations.

  • It doesn’t even say that he should ask the person most likely to be able to form a government.

In the past, Rivlin has held these party meetings openly, on TV, and asked each party for a single nomination. This time he’s asking them for several options and has said he’ll choose the candidate who has the best chance of succeeding.

That process begins on Monday, the same day that Netanyahu is due in court for witness testimony in his corruption trial.

How does this all end?

Starting on election night, Netanyahu’s Likud colleagues were already talking about a FIFTH election. If no coalition is formed, that happens automatically, keeping the current government (and PM Netanyahu) in place in a caretaker capacity until the end of next year. That’s a democratic problem; Israel has only been governed by a ‘permanent’ government with the confidence of the Knesset for 6 of the last 27 months.

Things could change for a fifth election. But a pandemic resulting in mass national lockdown, followed by a world-beating vaccination campaign, didn’t seem to make much difference to the bottom line result.

And, of course, there could be defections, legislation or other shenanigans to secure a coalition or change the rules of the game.

Ultimately, though, the Israeli public has voted four times in two years. In none of those votes did the Netanyahu’s coalition secure a majority, and the only attempt at compromise between the two blocs collapsed after six months.

When an incumbent fails to form a stable government four times in a row, the usual solution would be for the incumbent to resign. But with Netanyahu unwilling to step aside as party leader, Israel could be heading for another extended period of political stasis.

Curious: Biden insider writes anonymous op-ed

In a shocking turn of events, Slate has published “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Biden Administration”, an anonymous op-ed by a top insider who’s clearly frustrated at taking the blame for certain incidents. The identity of the mole, who also wrote “I have vowed to bite members of his Secret Service detail and poop on his floors”, will surely be debated for years.

Thanks for reading.