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What’s Happening with Israel’s Elections?

If you thought America’s last election cycle was wild, Israel’s elections are even crazier. Israel’s citizens are about to head to the polls on March 23rd for a fourth round of elections in less than two years! Being unable to form a stable government after the last three election rounds, Israel is heading to the polls again. The question is – what will be different this time around? 

First, a bit about how Israeli politics work. If you’re like me, an American, you may be a bit confused since Israel is based on a Parliamentary system. 

Israel is governed by a single body, called the Knesset, which is made up of 120 seats.  Each election cycle there are between 30 and 40 parties that compete, although by the registration deadline, there are only about 15 that end up actually running. These parties compete for Israel’s votes, and need at least 3.25% of the vote (which equals 4 seats) to make it into the Knesset. 

After the votes are tallied, members of the new government recommend the party head that they think can form a coalition to the President of Israel. (The president of Israel is largely a symbolic role, with one of his few tasks being to appoint a candidate to form a government.) After the president designates a party head to form a government, that person has 2 weeks to put together a coalition. He will negotiate with the other parties in an attempt to bring them into his government. Typically, parties who join the coalition are offered a certain number of cabinet positions. 

Once a coalition is formed, the Knesset is sworn into office, with all of the parties who did not join the coalition making up the opposition. 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the current leader of the Likud party, and the top contender to form a government after the March 23rd elections. He recently overtook David Ben Gurion as the longest serving prime minister in all of Israel’s history. Although a strong, conservative leader who has led Israel well over the years, there is a growing camp in the country of those who want him ousted. Some of the contending parties on the right and left spectrum have vowed to never sit in a coalition with Netanyahu. Over the last several years his policies have shifted from right wing to center-right.

This week, settlement leaders in Judea and Samaria, many of whom have voted for Netanyahu in the past, expressed their dissatisfaction with his campaign thus far. Netanyahu typically campaigns in Judea and Samaria during election cycles, with promises of building permits and annexation. This time, however, settlement leaders are feeling ignored. Even though he has campaigned amongst the Bedouins in the south, residents of Israel’s heartland have been thus far excluded. 

In a recent Channel 13 poll taken in Israel, the Likud party is slated to win 29 seats. The total number of seats from those likely to sit with Netanyahu in a government is only 46, far short of the minimum 61 needed to form a government. This is largely due to party leaders who have vowed to never join a Netanyahu-led government. 

Several other parties to watch in this round of elections are: 

  • Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett: right wing, and currently polling at 11 seats
  • New Hope, headed by Gideon Saar: center-right, and currently polling at 9 seats
  • Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid: left-wing, and currently polling at 20 seats

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, and current alternate prime minister, is polling to barely clear the minimum threshold needed to enter the next government. 

So what will happen on March 23rd? Here’s a few possible scenarios. 

  1. Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) is given the chance to form a coalition. He will face a very difficult situation since several large parties have vowed to never join his coalition. 
  2. Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) receives the opportunity to form a government. He will also have a difficult time putting together a coalition unless Yamina joins forces with him. This would make for an interesting situation, with a government made up of parties from far left all the way to far right. 
  3. Naftali Bennett (Yamina) attempts to form a government. He may have a chance at putting together a coalition, but will have a tough job convincing center-left parties to sit in a government with Likud. 

No matter what happens, Israel’s fourth round of elections are shaping up to be a wild ride. No one is at all certain of who will become Israel’s next prime minister. 

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