Israel’s third election in a year results in another stalemate

Mr Netanyahu is Israel’s longest serving prime minister. Source: Chatham House (via Flickr)

Last Monday, Israel held its third election in a year. The election resulted in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, remaining the largest party with 58 seats but remaining three votes short of a majority.  This means that the party will need to form a coalition to effectively govern.

The election has been surrounded by controversy as Mr Netanyahu is due to appear in court on March 17 on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Holding this many elections in a year is unprecedented for Israel with the last two elections failing to present a clear majority between the current president’s centre-right to right-wing Likud party, their allies and the centrist Blue and White alliance headed by the former Israeli military chief Benjamin Gantz.

This round of voting has ended in the Likud party gaining another three seats taking their total to 58 seats, while Gantz’ Kahol Lavan remains on 33. This makes the Likud party the largest in the Israeli Parliament. However, the party will need to form a coalition with other right-wing parties to reach the 61 seats needed for a majority. Coalition talks are underway although it seems likely that if any government is going to be formed, it will be Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party that returns to government.

Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister leading the country for four terms firstly from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009 until the most recent round of elections.

This election process has become so long due to the inconclusive nature of the previous elections, the first of which was held in April 2019, each producing no clear winner and leaving both major parties neck to neck in the polls. Israel’s elections run on proportional representation with parties gaining seats in Israel’s 120 seat parliament proportional to their share of the popular vote. Previously, it had not been possible for either side of the Parliament to agree to a coalition deal, so voters were asked to go to the polls once again.

The Joint List alliance of Arab parties has lost seats compared to the first round of voting but have successfully retained 15 seats. They have in the past been willing to back Kahol Lavan in order to form a coalition but it seems that these two parties will not control hold seats to form a coalition unless they are willing to add additional parties to their agreement. Interestingly, if the Kahol Lavan alliance does make it into government the party’s leader, Mr Gantz and former finance minister, Yair Lapid have agreed to share the presidency with each politician running the country for two and a half years.

This election may bring major change to the political landscape of the Middle East. Mr Netanyahu has vowed to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West bank if he wins his fifth term. This could potentially cause grave consequences as the United Nations and other countries consider this move illegal. Both leaders of the two major parties have endorsed Trump’s two-state solution deal. However, it is unclear to what extent Mr Gantz would act upon the peace deal.

After all the votes were counted Mr Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc are short of a majority in the Israeli parliament by three seats. It has been reported that the Likud party are seeking defections from other parties, particularly their main rival the Blue and White alliance. 

Mr Netanyanu said on election night that Likud had “won a victory against all odds“ however much more work and negotiations are needed before a government can be formed. 

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