With Israelis set to go to the polls on Tuesday, the final television polls released last week point to a close race that could swing either way on who will be the next prime minister, even as the Likud party of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win by far the most seats in the Israeli parliament. And due to Israel’s complex politics, “no one” winning the premiership is looking likely.
The latest polls by various news channels in Israel, cited by The Jerusalem Post, show Likud winning at least 30 seats in every poll, with the left-leaning Yesh Atid party coming in second-place with no more than 19 seats. Despite the advantage for Netanyahu’s Likud party, it will be likely be a tight finish to see whether or not a pro-Netanyahu coalition will have enough seats to stay in power.
The reason is because Israel uses a party legislative system in which the prime minister is generally chosen by whatever party or parties can muster together at least 61 seats in the Israeli parliament (known as the Knesset). Since no party is expected to come close to winning an outright majority, a coalition government would be needed. Yet it is division over Netanyahu, rather than traditional politics, that could determine who would sit in that coalition and that is making this election a tossup.
Political parties traditionally and soundly on the “right” in Israel would be expected to win at least 75 seats in all four polls for a dominant majority, but the New Hope party of former Likud star Gideon Sa’ar and the Yisrael Beitenu party of former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are not expected to join a Netanyahu-led coalition due to political opposition to Netanyahu himself.
However, those right-leaning parties also don’t fit very well into a coalition led by the left-leaning Yesh Atid and its allies. Furthermore, even with those right-leaning parties, none of the polls cited by The Jerusalem Post indicated that Yesh Atid-led anti-Netanyahu bloc could form a governing coalition without help from either the right-leaning and undecided Yamina party or the wild card Ra’am Arab party. That means that more political gridlock and another election—which would be Israel’s fifth vote in two years—is looking probable.
This political conundrum led Netanyahu to take to Twitter on Saturday in Hebrew comments translated by Google to accuse New Hope and the right-leaning Yamina party of conspiring to join a government led by Yesh Atid in an apparent attempt to scare right-leaning voters to choose Likud. However, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett responded on Twitter on Sunday, according to Google’s translation, by calling the accusation a “lie” and stating definitively that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid “will not be prime minister. I am a right-wing man and so are most of the voters.” The tweet continued to state that the “next government to be formed will be a right-wing government. There are eighty right-wing seats and there are plenty of options.”
Sa’ar, in his own tweet on Sunday translated by Google, promised to join with Bennett and “together we will form a change government of the right and the center that will replace Netanyahu!”
The Jerusalem Post cited polls from Kan Channel 11, Channel 12, Channel 13, Ma’ariv / Panels Politics and Direct Polls. In every case the parties The Jerusalem Post labeled as ostensibly opposed to Netanyahu remaining prime minister won most of the votes, but due to political differences would be unlikely partners to form a governing bloc.
However, in each voting situation the Yamina party and the Ra’am Arab party could theoretically both join a Netanyahu coalition and give him enough seats to retain power.
In just one poll—that of Direct Polls—could Netanyahu form a governing coalition without the Ra’am Arab party, making them a potentially unusual kingmaker for a right-leaning government. At the same time, only the Ma’ariv / Panels Politics poll showed the Ra’am party being enough to give the anti-Netanyahu bloc power. As a result, the anti-Netanyahu bloc would probably also need Yamina in order to win—making them an unusual powerbroker for a government tilting to the center-left.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in comments last week published in an Israeli press release, offered his own advice to the rival parties on how to fix the complex situation moving forward.
“We cannot allow politics to remain a zero-sum game. ‘All or nothing’ politics are self-destructive. Nobody knows what the results will be, but one thing should be clear: we have to get back to a politics of compromise that signifies stateliness and partnership, respecting the people as a whole,” said Rivlin.
Yet even if the major parties can find a way to compromise, that still leaves much unclear before the vote. The Times of Israel, in their reporting on the election polls, noted the situation is even more volatile due to the large number of parties who sit on the four-seat threshold for making the Knesset.
Under Israeli election laws, if a party wins fewer then four seats, then they are not allowed to enter the parliament and the number of Knesset seats is recalibrated proportionally based on the number of votes for parties winning at least four seats. Three anti-Netanyahu parties, one pro-Netanyahu party and the undecided Ra’am party all won just four seats in at least one of the polls cited by The Jerusalem Post.
So in the end, the winner of Tuesday’s election could very well be Netanyahu, a right or left-leaning rival… or as has happened in two of last three elections, the winner could be gridlock that leads to yet another round of voting later this year.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 21, 2021)