By Alison Markman
New York City, New York
Israel has held four elections in the past two years. The latest election has resulted in no clear leader for the country. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents were able to secure the needed majority to establish themselves as prime minister and reinstate a governing body.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, and they have an electoral system in which seats are distributed to any party able to secure a minimum threshold of 3.25% of the vote. Because there are so many parties, the prime minister is selected to be the party leader to form a majority coalition in The Knesset. This means smaller parties must come together to attain the majority.
The election held this month concluded with Netanyahu’s alliance of right-wing and religious parties winning 52 seats and a coalition of centrist left-wing and Arab opposition parties winning 57 seats––both short of the needed 61 seat majority. In addition, voter turnout was at an all time low with a mere 67.4% turnout, the lowest since 2009.
The election results prolong the uncertainty in the nation in the midst of a deadly pandemic, leaving Israelis without a stable government and no national budget. Netanyahu is currently being tried for corruption and is attempting to hold onto his job and title for the thirteenth year against the centrists and left wing coalition.
Netanyahu ran on a platform that would oppose an Iranian nuclear weapons program, support Israeli settlers in the West Bank and expand diplomatic relations with Arab countries. The election served primarily as a referendum of Netanyahu’s power rather than a policy centered campaign. The opposition to Netanyahu comes from multiple parties, many differing in ideology but united in their goal to remove Netanyahu from power.
The election gave Netanyahu his widest margin with 53 seats–30 more than any other party–but this still falls short of the majority. Addressing his supporters on March 31, Netanyahu said, “This evening we have brought a tremendous achievement, we have made Likud the largest party in Israel by a very large margin.”
Netanyahu still does not have enough support to reach a majority, and he may have to form what many believe would be an unusual alliance. Both sides are looking towards the four seats won by United Arab List, a small Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas. Never before have the Jewish leaders worked with the Arab leaders, but due to the current nature of the election results, it may be the only way to create stability in the government and establish a clear majority. On the other hand, far right members of Netanyahu’s coalition stand in strong opposition to this alliance. Head of the Religious Zionist Party tweeted, “Not on my watch.” Abbas, on the other hand, is open to negotiating with anyone over a potential alliance, and he has a scheduled meeting with Yaer Lapid, an anti-Netanyahu coalition leader.
The president will have to make an important decision in which leader he believes has the best chance of being able to establish a stable government. The candidate he selects will then have a month to form a coalition. If this fails, a majority of lawmakers can throw their support behind another candidate who would then have another two weeks to form a coalition. If the alternate fails, the fifth election in two years will occur this August.