GP Insights # 492, 28 March 2021
On 23 March, Israel held its fourth parliamentary election in two years. The election was conducted after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government collapsed.
On the same day, Palestinian militants fired rockets at Beersheba moments after PM Netanyahu visited the city. The Israeli army responded with overnight aerial strikes targeting areas controlled by Gaza's Hamas Islamist rulers.
On 25 March, Israel's election commission announced the election results. The pro-Netanyahu bloc had won 52 seats, and the anti-Netanyahu bloc had won 57 seats out of 120 seats. The Likud party led with 30 seats, followed by the Yesh Atid party with 17 seats. Thus, the election has ended in a stalemate between both blocs since neither side has the required majority of 61 seats.
What is the background?
First, the continuing political stalemate. Since April 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud Party) and Benny Gantz (Blue and White Party) have failed to maintain a working coalition. Despite an agreement to switch powers after 18 months, PM Netanyahu denied Gantz, the leadership. Since its inception, the Knesset (Israel's legislature) has been mostly governed by coalition governments consisting of two or more parties. The problem within the coalition governments has been the primary issue for the stalemate.
Second, Netanyahu's survival strategy. Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister of Israel for the past 12 years, making him the longest-standing PM. Despite facing opposition throughout his tenure, Netanyahu has always found a way to stay in power. He has used the legal system to validate his tenure. Even when faced with charges of corruption and bribery, Netanyahu was safeguarded by the legislature, which allowed him to remain in power. He had also pulled out support from coalition governments when his authority was challenged, knowing that re-election would end in a stalemate. This is one of the main reasons why Israelis have had to vote four times in the past two years.
Third, a divided opposition. Despite the opposing parties having won 57 seats in the recent elections and sharing the common goal of ending PM Netanyahu's tenure, they remain ineffective. Most of the opposition is highly diverse and comes from varying sides of the political spectrum. The chance for them to form a coalition is less than Netanyahu forming alliances with other rightist and orthodox parties to prove his majority.
What does this mean?
First, the ideological divide between the political parties has led to weak coalitions and has also impacted governance. If Israel is to recover from its economic slowdown due to the pandemic, then a stable government is essential.
Second, the uninterrupted reign of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu and the Likud party seem to have made it clear that they intend to stay in power. He has used successive parliamentary elections as buffers to retain his political power. His support within the Israeli bureaucracy is still favourable and would continue to save him from allegations and criminal charges.
Third, the possibility of a fifth election. If neither of the blocs proves their majority, then Israeli citizens could be called to vote for the fifth time in two years.