Over the past 6 months the country of Israel has undergone two elections in order to decide the office of prime minister. Incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held the position for close to a decade and is in more danger of losing power than ever. Netanyahu is considered to be a far right candidate, and during his tenure as prime minister has enacted many policies that have grown Israel while shrinking the neighboring Palistinain state. His opponent Benny Gantz is a far more moderate candidate and is in some ways seen as a leftist by Israeli standards (Gladstone-Specia). Neither currently are capable of forming a new government which is leaving the state in a gridlock. The outcome of the situation is yet to be seen, but I see one of three of the following possibilities to be most likely. A third election could potentially happen, either Gantz or Netenyahu could win out, or Gantz and Netenyahu could potentially share the power. I believe the latter to be most likely, but the situation is extremely difficult to predict.
In order to understand the full complexity of the situation in Israel in regard to their elections it is important to start by explaining the nuances of the electoral cycle. The current selectorate is every citizen over the age of 18 is allowed to vote in Israel, although Netenyahu has proposed to only allow Jewish Isreali citizens to vote in elections (FAQ)(Schwartz). This move would essentially cut out the arabic portion of the selectorate that currently exists, but for the time being the selectorate is not so limited.
In a stark contrast to many other elections that take place across the world Israli citizens do not vote for individual representatives or candidates. Instead they vote on a number of different parties. These parties are then distributed a different number of the 120 member Knesset (parliament). In order for parties to have a member of the Knesset they must have 3.25% of the vote (FAQ). Each party is led by a different candidate for prime minister. After they each have learned of their designated amount of parliamentary seats they can begin to form alliances with other parties in an effort to create one unified coalition that holds 61 or more seats in the Knesset. This majority is needed in order to form a new government (Gladstone-Specia).
Currently both Gantz and Netenyahu lack the number of legislatures in each of their camps in order to form a new government. Five months ago during the first of the two elections Netenyahu had 60 lawmakers, and ended up calling a second election in an attempt to gain enough seats in the second election (Gladstone-Specia). After months of campaigning and a second election he now finds himself in an even more unfavorable position only having 55 lawmakers as the time of writing. His extremely divisive campaign in the leadup to the second election is partially to blame for the dip in lawmakers that he experienced. He ran a far right campaign off of Arab voter suppression and fear mongering and this tactic only inspired the Arabic population to show up to the polls in strong numbers. The problems could grow even larger for Netenyahu as he could potentially be indicted due to corruption charges. Part of his motive to stay in power is speculated by some to be his desire to push through a law that would essentially protect him from these indictment charges. While some have been speculating that this could be the end of Netenyahu’s political career, I don’t believe that we have seen the last of him.
It has been proposed that both Gantz and Netenyahu would share the power, and this proposal is interestingly coming from the camp of Netenyahu. In order for Netenyahu to continue to hold his power he will need to share power with Gantz. I could easily see Gantz giving in at the last hour, but the only option is to wait and see. Netenyahu has been tasked by the president to form a government in the next 28 days, and if no government were to be formed after this period then Gantz will most likely be given a chance to create one(Kershner, Netenyahu Chosen). If that were to end up failing as well the next step could be “an absolute majority of Knesset members (61) has the option of applying in writing to the President, asking him to assign the task to a particular Knesset member. Such a precedent has yet to occur.” (FAQ)
I view this prolonged election cycle to be a threat to the current democratic regime in Israel. For starters it has shown the inefficiencies of the Israeli parliament, voting system, and deep political divides between the numerous coalitions of the country. After this election I believe that institutional reforms are necessary in order to ensure that elections caused gridlock does not become the norm. I also believe that should Netenyahu became prime minister the democracy of Israel will be under threat. He has proposed to make it illegal for the Arabic population to partake in the votes, make the prime minister exempt from indictment, to continue to expand into Palistinian land, and to implement face scanning technology at voting booths (Schwartz). To me all of these plans show a leader who is scared of losing power. Oppressing the Arabic minority would also most likely cause the outside world to criticize Israel.
I do not believe that it will be possible for Netenyahu to get to 61 lawmakers, and I also do not believe that Gantz will be able to. I believe that they will end up sharing the office of Netenyahu. Recently there was a leaked audio recording of Gantz saying that he is open to the idea although he has outwardly expressed his sentiment against sharing power to the press(Kershner, Possible Unity). I believe that both Gantz and Netenyahu realize that a third election would be unproductive for both sides. A third election would mean Netenyahu potentially becoming indicted, a slide of public opinion, or unrest from the citizens of Israel. Both have a lot at stake, and settling for a shared government would deter many of the potential downsides that a third election would cause. A unity government is absolutely on the cards for Israel.
Gladstone, Rick, and Megan Specia. “Israel Elections: How the Country Chooses a Leader and What’s at Stake.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Apr. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/world/middleeast/elections-israel.html.
“FAQ: Elections in Israel 2019.” Mfa.gov.il, 4 Apr. 2019, mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/State/Democracy/Pages/FAQ-Elections-in-Israel-2019.aspx.
Kershner, Isabel. “In Israel, Gantz and Netanyahu Start Talks on Possible Unity Government.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Sept. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/09/23/world/middleeast/israel-election-rivlin-netanyahu-gantz.html.
Kershner, Isabel. “Netanyahu Is Chosen to Form Israel’s Next Government.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Sept. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/world/middleeast/israel-election-results-netanyahu.html?action=click&module=Top%2BStories&pgtype=Homepage.
Schwartz, Yardena. “How Netanyahu’s Campaign against Israel’s Arab Citizens Backfired.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Sept. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/news/world/how-netanyahu-s-campaign-against-israel-s-arab-citizens-backfired-n1056826.