Elections in Israel leave things as muddled as ever

To quote Peace Now, “Another election in Israel, another round of inconclusive results. While the parties struggle to form a coalition for a third time in a year”. The Conservative Friends of Israel have just sent us this statement:

As the results are now almost all in from Monday’s election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as having won the most Knesset seats, but his right-wing bloc fell short of an overall majority, leaving no clear winner and raising the prospect of a fourth election.

This week’s election was the country’s third in less than a year – unprecedented in Israeli history.

With over 99% of the votes counted, Likud won 36, Blue and White 33 seats, Joint (Arab) List 15 seats, Shas 9 seats, United Torah Judaism 7 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu 7 seats, Labour-Gesher-Meretz 7 seats, Yamina 6 seats.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties has a total of 58 seats, three short of the 61 majority needed to form a government. In a late night speech, Netanyahu called the results “a huge victory” and “massive achievement against all the odds”.

Defying coronavirus fears, turnout was an impressive 71%, the highest in 21 years.

A look at the breakdown of the total votes shows strong divisions between geographical areas, with some parts of the country giving a big lead to Likud and others strongly backing Blue and White. This polarisation can be clearly seen in the results for Tel Aviv (predominantly backing Blue and White) compared to Jerusalem, where Likud came first.

Significantly, the Joint (Arab) List won an historic 15 seats, due to a marked increase in support based on higher turnout in Arab communities and a possible surge in support from left wing Jewish Israelis. Leader Ayman Odeh hailed the “crazy achievement” and thanked Arab and Jewish voters.

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White have maintained they will not serve in a government led by Netanyahu due to his impending corruption trial commencing on 17th March. The Joint List and Labour-Gesher-Meretz also confirmed they would not join a Netanyahu government. Secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman continues to insist he will also not serve in a government with what he calls the “ultra-Orthodox-messianic bloc”. However, he also underlined he would do all he could to prevent a fourth election.

At this moment, the top priority of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is to find enough defectors from political parties outside the bloc to build a majority of 61 Knesset Members. For now, all suspected candidates appear to be staying loyal to their parties.

Among those considered to potentially defect include MKs Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel of the centrist Blue and White, who have both worked for Netanyahu and are considered on the right of the party. Likud are thought to be targeting Blue and White’s Omer Yankelevich, as she has allegedly criticised Benny Gantz’s leadership. The leader of Gesher, Orly Levy-Abekasis is also seen as a prime target, but she dismissed the speculation today as “absurd”. Blue and White MK Meirav Cohen confirmed yesterday that she had been approached by Likud with an offer of the pensioners or welfare portfolio, and turned down the offer.

Meanwhile, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said that his party would seek legislation to bar Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as Prime Minister due to the upcoming corruption trial. Netanyahu accused his rival of seeking to undermine democracy: “Gantz lost and now he’s trying to steal the election… The people’s will is clear. The national Zionist camp includes 58 seats. The leftist Zionist camp includes 47 seats”. Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said today that his party will back legislation barring Netanyahu from being Prime Minister.

Netanyahu, who will go on trial in two weeks for bribery, fraud and breach of trust is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.

What happens next?

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has confirmed that he will begin consultations with party leaders next week to determine which candidate he will task with forming the next coalition government.

The candidate has 28 days to form a coalition but is able to request a 14-day extension from the President if negotiations are proving lengthy and challenging. If the candidate fails to win the support of at least 61/120 MKs in that time, the President can task another candidate with forming a coalition. The second candidate has 28 days to form a coalition, with no possibility of extension.

The next few days are set to be some of the most dramatic in Israel’s political history. Make sure to follow along with CFI on social media to keep up to date with the latest drama.

Who’s Who?

Among the main parties who will be in Israel’s next Knesset are:

Likud – Headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud stands for national and economic liberalism and has been the traditional home of the mainstream right-wing since the 1970s when it was founded by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon. Likud have merged with the economically focused Kulanu Party post the April 2019 election.
March 2020: 36 seats September 2019: 31 seats April 2019: 35 seats Kulanu 4

Blue and White – Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz joined forces with Yair Lapid in February under a new centrist ticket named Blue & White. The centrist alliance has emerged as the principle challenger to Likud. Having previously decided on a rotation deal for Prime Minister should they win, Blue and White have dropped this policy in order to gain greater party support. Gantz will take the position of Prime Minister for a full 5-year term, should Blue and White succeed, and Lapid will serve as Foreign Minister.
March 2020: 33 seats September 2019: 33 seats  April 2019: 35 seats

Yamina (The Right Bloc) – A bloc of pro-settler and far-right parties running on a joint ticket; Jewish Home, The New Right and The National Union. Ayelet Shaked, former Justice Minister and popular among the secular-right who has taken over the leadership of the bloc. Voters were disappointed that 2 hours following September 2019’s final results were announced, the parties decided to split from their bloc. They have vowed this will not happen again.
March 2020: 6 seats September 2019: 7 seats April 2019: United Right 5 New Right 0

Labor-Meretz-Gesher (The Left Bloc) – Having varied success in different pairings in previous elections, the left bloc have decided to run on a joint ticket led by Labor leader Amir Peretz. Labor support pragmatic foreign affairs policies, social democratic economic policies and a two-state solution. Meretz led by Nitzan Horowitz is seen as the leftist party emphasising social justice, human rights, religious freedom, environmentalism. Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher Party is considerably smaller and less known primarily focusing on economic and  cost-of-living issues and aiming to reduce inequality.
March 2020: 7 seats September 2019: Labor Gesher 6 Meretz 5 seats April 2019: Labour 6 Gesher 0 Meretz 4

Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) – Led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing secular nationalist party traditionally held a base for secular, Russian-speaking Israelis. Having been branded election seasons kingmaker, Lieberman’s unwillingness to sit with the Ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs or an indicted Prime Minister have labelled him the reason for Israel’s multitude of elections.
March 2020: 7 seats September 2019: 8 seats  April 2019: 5 seats

The Joint (Arab) List – Four-strong Arab alliance comprising of: Ta’al (Arab Renewal), Hadash (Jewish/Arab Communist), Ra’am (Islamist) and Balad (Arab-Palestinian nationalists). The Joint List ran together in 2015 but dissolved into Ta’al-Hadash and Ra’am-Balad pairings for the April elections receiving six and four seats respectively. To prevent falling below the threshold, the parties have reformed The Joint List led by Ayman Odeh and have been soaring in recent elections due to higher Arab-Israeli turnout.
March 2020: 15 seats September 2019: 13 seats  April 2019: 4/6seats

Shas – Led by Aryeh Deri, an ultra-Orthodox party which primarily represents the interests of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. Since its founding 1984, Shas has always formed part of the governing coalition regardless of who the ruling party is.
March 2020: 9 seats September 2019: 9 seats  April 2019: 8 seats

United Torah Judaism – An alliance of Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel, two small Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties. The two parties have not always agreed with each other about policy matters; however, they have cooperated in order to win the maximum number of seats since 1992.
March 2020: 7 seats September 2019: 8 seats April 2019: 8 seats




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