Israel’s political deadlock appears set to continue after the final results of Tuesday’s General Election – the fourth in two years – failed to deliver a clear route to a new coalition government being formed.
The final results, released on Thursday, left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud as the largest party with 30 seats but his traditional right-wing and religious coalition partners managed a combined 52 seats – short of the 61 required for a majority.
A potential ‘anti-Netanyahu’ or ‘change coalition’ incorporating Yesh Atid (17), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beiteinu (7), Labor (7), New Hope (6), Meretz (6), and Joint List (6) would have 57 seats – again short of the required majority number in the 120 seat Knesset.
Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party is keeping political pundits guessing – he has refused to rule out sitting in a government with Netanyahu, but studiously campaigned on the declaration that it was time for a change in leadership. Their 7 mandates would take either bloc close to securing a majority.
While Yamina agreeing to join one of the two blocs would take either one closer to the required threshold they would both still fall short as things stand. Accordingly, many Israelis are waiting to see what happens with the Islamist Ra’am party which secured 4 seats in the election and could make them the kingmaker. The party, which splintered from the Arab Joint List at this election, has indicated it would consider joining a government that promised to provide support to and address issues within Israel’s Arab community. A number of right-wing politicians have already spoken about their unpreparedness to enter a coalition with Ra’am for their perceived anti-Zionist stance and Ra’am have expressed the same opposition to serving alongside hard-right politicians, which will further complicate the ensuing coalition negotiations. Netanyahu has not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with the party.
With limited options, Netanyahu is expected to reach out to members of the New Hope party in an effort to encourage some to defect to his coalition and take him to the coveted 61 seats. Most of the New Party MKs had previously served for Netanyahu as MKs in Likud but broke away to join the new party when it was founded by Gideon Saar – a long-time rival to Netanyahu. Additionally, Netanyahu could try to encourage Blue and White’s Benny Gantz (the current Defence Minister) to join a coalition for the second time.
In the early horse-trading, New Hope party leader Gideon Saar called to examine all options for forming a government without Netanyahu. He said: “It is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority for a coalition headed by him. Now we must work to fulfil the potential for forming a government of change”. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has already met with counterparts in several of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, including Labour head Merav Michaeli.
Formal election results will be presented to President Reuven Rivlin next Wednesday. The so-called ‘change coalition’, which would presumptively be led by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, could yet be first tasked by President Rivlin at forming a viable coalition government. Negotiations would be no less difficult for Lapid though as the anti-Netanyahu bloc is politically disparate and would face many competing demands.
With the negotiations over forming a viable coalition only just beginning, many Israelis are already bracing themselves for a fifth election later this year.