Israeli Elections September 2019

Crossing the Rubicon? Understanding the Implications of Israel’s Elections

Ronen Zvulun, Nir Elias, Amir Cohen/Reuters
from Member Conference Calls

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Elections and Voting

Martin S. Indyk and Barak Ravid discuss the results of the Israeli parliamentary elections and the domestic and international implications.


Martin S. Indyk

Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Barak Ravid

Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Israel’s Channel 13


Carla Anne Robbins

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

ROBBINS: Good morning. Thank you. And welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations conference call. I’m Carla Anne Robbins, an adjunct senior fellow here at the Council. As a reminder, today’s discussion is on the record, and joining us on the call are CFR members, corporate contacts, outreach constituents, and members of the press.

Leading the discussion this morning on the results and implications of the Israeli election are Ambassador Martin Indyk and Barak Ravid. Martin is a distinguished fellow at CFR. He served as ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2000 to 2001. He also served as U.S. special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 2013 to 2014, and other senior positions at State and NSC. Barak Ravid is the senior diplomatic correspondent at Channel 13, Israel’s main television news channel. He also writes prolifically for Axios on Israeli politics. So I’ve been reading him this morning, and I would encourage you all to do that as well. Previously he covered the prime minister’s office, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Defense for Haaretz and the Palestinian Authority and diplomatic affairs for Maariv. And in addition to my role at CFR, I run the Master of International Affairs Program at Baruch College’s Marxe School as part of CUNY, and I’m a former editor and reporter for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

So, Martin and Barak, thank you so much for joining us. And here’s our plan for this morning’s call, which runs from 11:15 to noon. We’re going to cheat for about ten to twelve minutes and then open it up to the other members of the call.

So, Barak, I want to start with you. We don’t want to spend a lot of time on process, but right now it is all about process. So the only thing that seems clear is that Bibi hasn’t won for a second time. So what happens now? And when will it happen? And when are we really going to know what’s going to happen? Is this going to—if you had to bet, is this going to be a Gantz-Lieberman government? Is it going to be a unity government with Likud? Or are we headed for yet another do-over election?

RAVID: Well, we are in a very difficult situation that I’m not even sure that there is a precedent to where we are now. Just to remind you, this is—we’ve just been through two election campaigns in less than six months. In April, April’s election ended with a tie and with Netanyahu not being able to form a coalition. And instead of following the regular procedure of giving the mandate back to the president in order for him to pass it along to his opponent Benny Gantz, Netanyahu, thirty minutes before the end of his deadline, dispersed the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and announced new elections. In those elections on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s goal was to get sixty-one-seat majority. Why does he need a sixty-one-seat majority? He needs this in order to get unity from the Knesset for his three pending indictments. Netanyahu failed in getting this majority, and basically he cannot form a coalition.

Another thing that happened, which is quite dramatic, is that, A, Benny Gantz, former chief of staff of the IDF but not a very seasoned politician, to say the least, entered the political system nine months ago and managed to win twice, more than thirty seats for his party. This is an unprecedented achievement for someone who has spent so little time in politics. And Benny Gantz this time not only managed to be the party with the biggest number of seats—thirty-three for the Blue and White Party led by Gantz and only thirty-one for the Likud, led by Netanyahu. But Gantz was also able to have a center-left bloc of fifty-seven members of Knesset, which is the highest number the center-left has had in years, not to mention in the last ten years when Netanyahu is in power. So this is quite an amazing achievement.

And what’s happened—what happens now is that Netanyahu during the campaign said: I want a right-wing government. I don’t want the unity government. And Gantz, on the other hand, said: I want the unity government. Right now, after the results, Netanyahu changed his tone. Now Netanyahu wants the unity government, but he wants to be the one that who leads this government, sits as the prime minister. Gantz, on the other hand, said: I won the election. I have no problem with a unity government, but if there is a unity government I need to lead it. And second thing Gantz is saying is that he will not sit in a unity government under Netanyahu as prime minister while Netanyahu still has his indictments.

So this is—we’re basically stuck. Next week, next Sunday, President Rivlin will start the consultation process with the different members of the different factions. Then he will have to decide who is the one, either Gantz or Netanyahu, that has the best chances of forming a coalition. And then he will give him the mandate. After getting the mandate, Netanyahu or Gantz, whoever’s going to get it, will have twenty-eight days to try and form a coalition. If he fails, then the mandate moves to the other one who has another twenty-eight days. If then they can’t form a coalition, we will go for third elections. This is the nightmare nobody wants to think about.

ROBBINS: Still reassuring to know there’s chaos everywhere else, not just here in the United States.

Martin, I want to go onto what this all means, but if you were a betting man, how do you think this is going to unfold?

INDYK: Good morning, everybody. First of all, I think what we need to be looking for the next important move is, as Barak said, what President Rivlin decides to do. It’s in his power, and he doesn’t have many powers, but this is one that is his power, to decide who will get the right to try to form a government first. Netanyahu’s had his chance last time and failed. Will he give Netanyahu the chance again, because Netanyahu has now kind of cobbled together with pledges of allegiance fifty-five seats with his right-wing and religious coalition partners. And that’s his claim to be the one that should form the next government. Versus Gantz, who doesn’t have that many votes in his natural coalition because he depends on the Arab Joint List vote, so it’s about thirteen, to put him over the edge of sixty-one, and on Lieberman.

But as Barak said, Gantz got more seats than Bibi did, thirty-three versus thirty-one. And today we have the first indication of what I believe will actually happen, which is that Lieberman, who succeeded in gaining eight seats—he only had five seats last time around when he blocked Netanyahu from forming a government—now he’s still in the position of kingmaker or kingslayer. And he has—he’s reported to have told his followers today that he will recommend to the president that Gantz be asked to form the next government. That is critical. If the head of the Arab List, Ayman Odeh, also recommends that, then Gantz will have a plausible claim to be able to get at least sixty-three seats, a majority in other words. And if Rivlin then gives the mandate to Gantz to try to form a government, he will then have the ability to offer the spoils of office to the others. It gives him a great advantage over Netanyahu at that point. So that’s what we need to be watching for.

ROBBINS: So, Barak, I want to go to you quickly, because I want to turn this over, but what does this tell us, the results of this election? It’s very close, of course, but what does it tell us about the political sentiment in Israel? Is this about substantive set of policy differences, that there’s been a shift in the sentiments of Israeli voters after such a long time with Netanyahu? Or is this just a backlash against Bibi, that people are just sick of him, he’s been around too long, he’s got, as you said, some of the indictments hanging over his head. Blue and White Gantz, as you said, is a new guy, but their entire platform—I saw a flyer on the internet—it was all about cleaner government, not a lot of, you know, other substance there. Is it about substance, or is it all about we’re sick of Bibi?

RAVID: Well, you know, I think both. I think what we have here in Israel is something that you guys in the United States might have in 2024 after Trump ends his second term. Meaning the divisions between—the classic divisions between left and right, those goal posts will move. Meaning in Israel the division between left and right used to be about a two-state solution, the Palestinian issue. This was the main thing for decades, okay? This is not anymore the case for many reasons. And in a way, today left and right division is about issues like rule of law, the principles of the declaration of independence, and the Israeli democracy. So it’s a set of whole other issues. And because of Netanyahu’s legal situation and the fact that he’s facing very serious charges of bribes, breach of trust, and fraud, then part of the platform of his opponents is the basic point that he cannot stay on as prime minister, because he’s corrupt. So this election was not about regular election—where we’re debating issues about economy, about social welfare, about foreign policy, about security—this was not the case. It was about rule of law and the future of the Israeli democracy.

And about Gantz himself and his party’s position, in a way Gantz and Netanyahu are not that different when it comes to their positions. Gantz, in a way, is where Netanyahu was in 2009. He’s Netanyahu—the 2009 Netanyahu model, okay? Much more centrist. Much more moderate. So the position, especially on foreign policy, okay, on Israel-Palestine, on Syria and on Iran, there’s not a big difference. The main difference between Netanyahu and Gantz is style, is the fact that Gantz has no pending indictments. And, in a way, Gantz doesn’t have Sara Netanyahu on his side. So on the policy itself, I don’t think that there are many differences between Netanyahu and Gantz.

ROBBINS: And he doesn’t have Bibi Netanyahu’s wife, who is also problematic in terms of legal issues.

RAVID: Yeah.

ROBBINS: So, Martin, just—because we do want to turn this over—but substantively if this is not the Netanyahu government, this is a very, very tense time in the region. You know, big questions also about whether or not the United States is going to take some sort of military action against Iran, we still have the war in Syria. Very unstable time around. What changes—and then, of course, we have the Israel-U.S. relationship, particularly after President Trump has invested so much in Netanyahu winning this particular election—what changes if we have a Blue and White-led coalition in Israel, in foreign policy, in the region, and in the U.S.-Israel relationship? In three minutes. No. (Laughs.)

INDYK: Well, the thing about the Blue and White leadership is that there are three former chiefs of staff, not just Benny Gantz but also Gabi Ashkenazi and Bogie Ya’alon. They have deep security credentials and deep security experience in dealing with all of these problems. So I do think that Israel’s overall approach to the security issues will be in very good hands. You’re right that Israel’s surrounded by all sorts of problematic situations in Gaza, Lebanon, and of course with Iran more generally. And that has been under Netanyahu’s leadership a main issue, but one that there’s been a general consensus that he’s been handling it fairly well—up until the last couple of weeks. So I think there too you’ll see a strong amount of continuity in terms of the way that Israel deals with the security situation.

ROBBINS: Do you think that—and sort of a final question here, and I’m sure that the people on the call will continue with this—do you think that President Trump’s intervention in this election—he’s been pretty directly involved in this—had any impact on the outcome? Barak or Martin?

INDYK: Well, I’d love to hear Barak on this, but I just want to jump in because I have my own personal experience there as Clinton’s ambassador when Clinton intervened on behalf of Peres and failed. And now Trump has intervened heavily on behalf of Bibi and failed. And I think it is a real salutary lesson for American presidents, which is they should stay out of the elections of democratic allies. It’s not their business and it’s counterproductive.

ROBBINS: Why don’t we turn this over to the many people on the call, and there are a lot of them. The operator can explain how we can do this, and Martin can begin with answering the questions

OPERATOR: We’ll take our first question from Richard Hyland of Rutgers Law School.

HYLAND: My question, Benny Gantz apparently said that 80 percent of the Israeli people agree on 80 percent of the issues. And I wanted to know, first of all, whether that’s correct. And, secondly, what is it that they agree on, particularly with regards to settlements, relations with the Palestinians, and Iran?

INDYK: I think that—one could quibble about the percentages—but I think the basic point is correct, particularly on the, you know, fundamental questions of war and peace. The Israeli public has become deeply skeptical of the chances for peace with the Palestinians as a result of their experience from 1993 on, with the Oslo Accords and the Intifada that followed that. However, I do not think there is broad support for the kind of settlement policies that Netanyahu has pursued. And even though Benny Gantz I think believes, and certainly Bogie Ya’alon, his partner in Blue and White, believe in holding onto the Jordan Valley, they’ve never pushed for annexation in the way that Netanyahu had promised to do in the run-up to this election.

And so I think that the fundamental difference between them and Netanyahu is that they are much more in favor of separation between Israel and the Palestinians. They may not be in favor at this moment of a two-state solution, or independent Palestinian state for the Palestinians. But they are definitely in favor of separating from the Palestinians, which is not the agenda of the settlers and their right-wing supporters in Bibi’s coalition.

ROBBINS: Thank you. And the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question from Tom Campbell of Chapman University.

CAMPBELL: I was interested in the reference to the Arab List, and whether the thirteen members of the Arab List who were successful in the elections might actually be included in a Blue and White coalition.


RAVID: Well, I want to tell you something about the Arab List, but it may be more broadly about minority—the minority voting in this election. In the previous elections, in April, minority population voted—the turnout was 49 percent, which was very, very low. And this time around the turnout was around 61 percent, much, much higher. And Benny Gantz and his party in the previous election and in this election got more or less the same number of votes. And the reason that this time Benny Gantz won and the last time he was tied with Netanyahu is because of the turnout of minority population. The low turnout of the minority population last time and this time the higher turnout, because the turnout influences massively the results of the elections in Israel because it’s a parliamentary system. And the way it works here is that the turnout is very, very significant.

So Benny Gantz got to where he is today mostly due to the Arab minority in Israel. And he knows them. And this is why on election night, after the exit polls were published, one of the first things Benny Gantz did—I want to remind you, former chief of staff, heading the party of three IDF chiefs of staff—picked up the phone and called Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, congratulated him on his achievement of getting thirteen seats, and asked to meet him—to schedule a meeting. This is something that we haven’t seen in Israel since Rabin in 1992. And in the last ten years, when Netanyahu systematically incited against the Arab minority, for a political leader to do something like that is a very, very meaningful step. And it is still unclear whether Gantz would get the support of the Arab List, will get the recommendation of the president. It’s still unclear.

But I think that this is the first time in decades, in almost thirty years, that there is a chance for real political cooperation between the representatives of the Arab minority in Israel and the leader of the biggest party in the Knesset. And I still want to remind you that the Arab minority voted 60-61 percent this time, which means that it still has a lot of potential because the general—the turnout in the general population was 70 percent. So the Arab minority still has more potential. And they can get even more seats if there’s more turnout.

ROBBINS: Can I just add a question into this, Martin, which you may help address, which is: For those voters, for the Arab-Israeli voters, what are their priorities? Are their priorities, you know, domestic priorities? Are they infrastructure issues? Are they civil rights issues? Or are they looking to two-state solution issues as well?

INDYK: Yeah, that’s a very good question. The point I wanted to make first of all was the great irony that Netanyahu made a huge deal, first of all, back in the 2015 elections and now again, in claiming that the Arabs were coming out, quote, “in droves” to vote, that they were going to somehow steal the election. And he used this to try to incite his own people to come out to vote, and to intimidate the Arabs from voting. Well, it had the exact opposite effect, even though he really pushed it in a most, in my view, disgusting way in the last week of the election campaign. The Arabs did come out in droves to vote, and they helped to reduce his numbers, as Barak explained.

Now, in terms of their agenda, this is a very interesting development, which is that they’ve shifted. For years, since they started the Oslo process back in Rabin’s day, their primary issue was the Palestinian issue. But in recent years, as everyone has become disillusioned with the Palestinian issue, they too have started to focus on their own issues, their issues for their communities. The question of policing in their communities, the question of education for their children, these kinds of social issues of normal Israelis, as they have increasingly come to see themselves. And they wanted their leadership to engage in the political process in a different way.

And that’s why they did not come out in the last election at all, because they were disillusioned with their leadership, and why their leadership now six months later made this change, united, and started to focus on the things that their people care about. And I think they got a very good result because of that, which reinforces this trend.

ROBBINS: Thanks. So the next question, please.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Mira Resnick of the United States House of Representatives.

RESNICK: Hi. I am curious, now that people have begun to speculate on a Netanyahu-less government in Israel, what you think might—what you think the U.S.-Israeli relationship—specifically with President Trump might look like. And then specifically, with Democrats on how this might change 2020 considerations, if Netanyahu is not in charge of the Israeli government. Thank you.


RAVID: Martin, you want to start?

INDYK: Okay, but I want you to answer. I think—(laughter)—I think that the U.S.-Israel relationship is much broader and deeper than personalities. But no doubt that Trump took the relationship and sought to use it for his own political ends, particularly to bolster his support among Evangelicals, and try to make inroads into the traditionally very strong support amongst American Jews for the Democratic Party. And he’s been quite deliberate about that. And his support for Netanyahu is because Netanyahu is a darling of the Evangelicals. And so I think that he intervened heavily to try to help Bibi get reelected on the assumption that Bibi would then turn around and help him get reelected, particularly by validating him with the Evangelicals, who are very staunch supporters of Israel.

And that ploy didn’t work. And already we see Trump, who has no loyalty, it seems, to anybody but himself, now distancing himself from Netanyahu and saying: This is all about Israel. It’s not about Netanyahu. He wasn’t as fulsome in his endorsement of Netanyahu during the campaign because, I suspect, that he wasn’t any more sure that Bibi wasn’t a loser, and he doesn’t like to identify with losers. But I do believe that because the Israeli relationship is important to his own reelection prospects, that he will embrace whatever government emerges, and whoever the prime minister is.



RAVID: Yeah. Hi, Mira. It’s good to hear you.

I think that, first, we need to—as Martin said—Netanyahu’s standing in the White House has deteriorated since he couldn’t manage to form a coalition after the April election. And by the way, it has manifested itself in several—with several examples. I think the most illuminating one is the fact that during the G-7, while the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was making his way to Biarritz in France, Netanyahu was frantically trying to get Trump on the phone, and Trump didn’t take the call for hours. I don’t think this was just a coincidence and a result of a packed schedule. And we saw that during this campaign Trump really didn’t do anything to help Netanyahu other than a tweet a few days before the elections—a tweet about the fact that he will meet Netanyahu after the elections to discuss a defense treaty, something which was very noncommittal. And obviously didn’t help Netanyahu at all.

So I think that Trump, I think realized that Netanyahu is on his way down. And then as Martin said, Trump doesn’t care for losers. But I think that here the thing is more about the Israeli government, because Netanyahu, which is something that we haven’t had—it wasn’t always the case. People look at it that way because they don’t remember anything before Netanyahu because he’s ten years in office. But the fact that Israel is a bipartisan issue was really classic Israeli foreign policy, the fact that we need to maintain Israel is a bipartisan issue in America. And the fact that Israel needs to keep very close contacts with the Jewish community in America.

Netanyahu is the one who actually changed that, who picked sides in the 2012 election in America, who aligned himself completely with Trump, who distanced the Israeli government from the majority of American Jews. And I think that in a way—if Gantz is the prime minister—and he still is not the prime minister. He’s a long way till he gets there. But if he will manage to form a government, in a way the U.S.-Israel relations will go back to, let’s say, a more normal situation, OK, both the Israeli government and the U.S. government, and the Israeli government and the Democratic Party, and the Israeli government and the Jewish community.

ROBBINS: All right. Thanks for that. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Hady Amr with the Brookings Institution.

AMR: Hi, friends. So just a quick question, and kind of building on Barak’s answer. You know, which is, what does this all mean for Ambassador Friedman? I think—my sense is that my sense is that Friedman urged Trump to go all in on Netanyahu the last two years, and kind of build on Netanyahu’s alignment between Netanyahu and the Republican Party. And so, you know, I just wonder how welcome he’ll be if Netanyahu is succeeded by somebody else as prime minister, given that he did everything he could, it seems to me, to campaign for Netanyahu’s reelection.

ROBBINS: You mean welcome in Israel or welcome in the White House for having given them bad advice?

AMR: Well, actually, that’s a great question. I almost mean welcome in both. And so, you know, just as Trump jettisoned Bolton when Bolton didn’t lead him in the right path, is Trump going to frustrated with Friedman? And will a future prime minister not really want to work with Friedman, who tried to build this alliance between Netanyahu and the Republican Party in the U.S.?


RAVID: I just heard that—I just heard the ending of the question. So maybe Martin will start.

INDYK: Sure. So, look, it’s the ambassador’s job to represent his president first and foremost. And one could say that Ambassador Friedman has done a good job in terms of trying to represent the views of his president. Where I think he’s done a lousy job is in terms of what he’s been recommending to the president should be done, as the questioner alluded to. And I think that his agenda is so clearly designed to promote the interests of the settler communities, and rather than the broader interests of the Israeli public, that he has really done a disservice to the relationship.

Ambassadors historically in Israel tend to get involved closely with the government of the day, and when the government changes being able to shift to the next one is not—is not simple. And in this case, I think Trump would be well-advised if there’s a new government with a different prime minister, to get a different ambassador.

RAVID: Well, Martin, I think you will agree that it’s not about—it will be even more dramatic on the Israeli side, because if Netanyahu is not the prime minister anymore then the Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer will not stay—will obviously not stay in his job, which would also be quite dramatic because Dermer was handling almost on his own, just him and Netanyahu directly, most of the relations with the U.S., both during the second term of Obama and obviously the first term of Trump, and without—with the new Israeli ambassador there, things in—the relations between the U.S. and Israel would look dramatically different because of the huge influence Dermer had on the relationship, in my opinion, very bad and negative influence. So if there is a new ambassador, I think things can only improve for the better, again, especially towards rebalancing the relationship back to a more bipartisan approach, and not a total alignment with the Republican Party.

ROBBINS: So we probably have time for one more question, and then maybe a sentence sum-up from both of you. So last question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And we’ll take our next question from Tom Rogers of the United States Court of Appeals.

ROGERS: Yes. Is there any chance that the Arab List will end up as the leader of the opposition? And if so, what would be the ramifications of that?

INDYK: Yes. It’s certainly possible, especially if there is a national unity government with Labor and Likud, because then the Arab List—Joint List would be the third—the largest party. It is now the third-largest party, with thirteen seats. And so Ayman Odeh, the head, could well be the leader of the opposition, although it’s also possible that he’d be supporting the government from the outside in a different configuration, if the Likud wasn’t there. So if Likud is there as part of a national unity government, then he would be a leader of the opposition. And he would have a status as such, which would include regular security briefings and meetings, of course, with foreign visitors, leaders from other countries. It would be a considerable upgrade in the status of the leader of the Arab parties.

RAVID: And I think I just want to add—want to add several things. A, he would also get a security detail from the Shin Bet security service. This would also be quite a threat to them. And the second thing, you need just to clarify, Benny Gantz when he’s negotiating with Ayman Odeh and the Joint List, he’s not negotiating with them about actually joining the government. The reason is not only because Benny Gantz doesn’t want that, but because the Arab List themselves, they don’t want to actually join the government—or, at least most of the members of the Joint List don’t want to join the government, especially because they’re saying: Once we are part of the government there’s a collective responsibility, and the government will have to do things like, I don’t know, go to war in Gaza, which is something that the Arab List could never support. So we would rather not be in the government.

So what Gantz is basically talking with the Arab List is about two things. A, recommending him to the president, which is the most important thing at the moment. And second, some sort of outside support for his government, if he forms one. And in return the Arab list will get things like having committees in the Knesset, they’ll get budgets for their causes, and other things that they will negotiate on things that are important for them.

ROBBINS: So I just want to ask—I’m going to take the prerogative of asking the last question. We haven’t talked about Lieberman. He seems to be the other kingmaker here, and the idea of him promoting a centrist coalition is something of a surprise to me. I don’t know if this is animosity toward Bibi, or he’s had some sort of a conversion, or I’ve misread him all along. But what is it that he’s going to want if this is the deal that he’s going to—you know, to get Blue and White in power? What are Lieberman’s big asks here?

RAVID: Well, you need to understand that Lieberman—many people see Lieberman as someone who’s right-wing, radical right-wing. Lieberman is not right-wing. He’s not left-wing. He’s not center. Lieberman is all about Lieberman. This is the only thing that makes the guy tick, okay, his own self-interest and gaining power. This is—this is what he cares about.

And I think that Lieberman, after the previous election when he got only five seats, in a way he decided to reinvent himself and find new voters. And the way to find new voters is to, A, not allow Netanyahu to form a coalition. This made him popular in everybody in the country who doesn’t want Netanyahu as the prime minister, looked at Lieberman as his savior because he prevented him from forming a government. And second, he said I will go, I will play, I will campaign on the issue of separation of church and state; basically, bashing the ultra-Orthodox, which is something that Lieberman did not invent. Many politicians did that during the last seventy years in Israel. It worked for all of them.

And the bonus for all of that for Lieberman right now, at least the way I see it—and I didn’t see any evidence that this has changed—is that Lieberman wants to keep Netanyahu out of politics. He made the strategic decision that this is what he wants to do. And this is why, for now, Lieberman is holding onto his basic position of a unity government and the possibility of even recommending Benny Gantz to the president. If Lieberman really recommends Gantz to the president, this would be quite dramatic, and it basically means that Lieberman has switched sides and he is for good not in the Netanyahu camp.


INDYK: I’ll just add—sorry.


INDYK: Add quickly two points. One is that Lieberman intends to be prime minister. That is at least for him a two-step process. The first is to slay Bibi Netanyahu. I think the second is to move back into the Likud, but it depends on how things develop. But his priority here is to prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister again, and I think that is something you can rely on.

The second thing about Lieberman, whom I’ve known and worked with closely over many years, is that he is what I call a radical territorial compromiser. He believes in separation above all when it comes to the Palestinians and even the Arabs. He would like some of the Arabs—the Israeli Arab citizens to become part of the Palestinian state, and he’s ready to give up territory inside Israel’s Green Line to make that happen. But he has said in the Knesset on a number of occasions that he doesn’t want to keep Arab East Jerusalem because of this desire for separation. He came out as foreign minister—when I was doing the negotiations with Secretary of State Kerry, he came out for the Kerry plan and supporting the Kerry plan even before we had a Kerry plan.

So Lieberman is a very interesting player in this game. He is, I think, by far the most sophisticated politician in Israel, and that’s saying something. And he intends to be the kingslayer and the kingmaker, and I would watch his moves very carefully.

ROBBINS: I want to thank you both so much for this and thank you all for calling in. I apologize that we haven’t had the time to—there are many, many of you out there. But I know that we’ll be doing more of these.

And, Martin and Barak, I’m just going to—I know we’re almost—we’ve gone three minutes over already, but I’m going to do final jeopardy here to you. And of course, we won’t hold you to it. So it’s fifty days ahead from now, fifty-two days ahead from now; what does the Israeli government look like? Barak?

RAVID: Fifty days from now how the Israeli government would look like?

ROBBINS: Sixty days, OK? They’ve got twenty-six days of—yes.

RAVID: Well, I’m telling you that there is a very good chance that sixty days from now—(laughs)—the Israeli government will be still the same interim government that is installed now and we will find ourselves on the way to a third election.

ROBBINS: And Martin?

INDYK: Well, I am not quite as pessimistic, although I can see the logic of Barak’s position. I do think we are going to see a Gantz-led coalition. Whether it’s in the first instance a national unity coalition is not clear to me, but I do think that there is a potential here for a new day dawning.

But as I just said, everybody should remember two things. Number one, never count Bibi Netanyahu out. He is—he is a real street fighter. He’s facing a prison term, potentially. He is cornered and wounded, and will do I think whatever it takes to try to retain his position. But secondly, to remember it’s not over until one could say the fat man from Moldova sings, and that is Avigdor Lieberman.

RAVID: (Laughs.)

ROBBINS: Thank you both so much, and thank you all for calling in. And we will check back with you to see which one is right and look forward to our further conversation.

RAVID: Thank you.

INDYK: Thank you.


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Immigration and Migration

Edward Alden, the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at CFR and Ross Dist Visiting Professor at Western Washington University, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the crisis at the U.S. southern border and the domestic debates over U.S. immigration policy.


The mass protests that have rocked Peru since December threaten to upend regional supply chains, intensify migration flows, and strain Lima’s bilateral relations.  


On the two-decade anniversary of the U.S. invasion, Iraq is weakly governed, leaving it prone to instability and meddling by neighbors—especially Iran.