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An Update on Israel’s Elections and 9 Paths Toward a More United Knesset

Last week’s Israeli elections culminated in a stalemate—surprise surprise—and with no distinct result in sight. This was the fourth round of elections in just two years, and yet neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his left-leaning opponents could secure a parliamentary majority, according to the official reports released on March 25. 

Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing and religiously aligned bloc won 52 seats, making the mandate more 

popular than during the 2020 elections. Still, the party remains 9 seats short of victory. The left bloc, however, also failed to gain the majority in the Knesset. A heterogeneous amalgamation of centrists, leftist, Arab, and right-wing opposition parties collected 57 seats. 

Also notable is that the center-left bloc received increased backing from the right-wing; in fact, if it were not for Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Sa’ar’s parties, the bloc would now stand at merely 38 seats, a drop of two from 2020. The Arab parties bore a severe defeat, dropping from 15 to 10 seats and reflecting the low Arab voter turnout and, in general, Arab voters’ rigid distrust in their representatives. 

Two pacifistic parties—the Islamist-Arab party Ra’am and the right-wing party Yamina—have found themselves at center stage this election season. They won four and seven seats respectively and are the bone of contention this time around, as Mr. Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, both strive to persuade the parties to form coalitions with them.

The overall voter turnout this year stunned at a meager 60.9%, the lowest since just after the 2008 Recession. 

Ultimately, the election’s gridlock thickens a political tangle that has persisted in Israel for two years now and has left its population devoid of a stable government, national budget throughout a global pandemic, and staff at several key Civil Service posts. After two elections in 2019, no party was able to assemble a majority coalition and establish a government. Following the election in 2020, Mr. Netanyahu and his rivals reluctantly joined into an incohesive, dysfunctional coalition that could not even agree on a budget, thus necessitating the last election in March. All the impasse does is prolong the precarious situation and leave Mr. Netanyahu—a man standing trial on several charges, including corruption, breach of trust, deception, and receiving of bribes—as prime minister. This is why it is appropriate to label the parties as pro and anti-Netanyahu. In all honestly, the March election was not divided on a basis of political or ideological belief, but rather, the voter’s animosity or affinity toward Netanyahu and his decision to run despite being indicted. Should the prime minister somehow congregate a majority coalition, his opposers—and even some of his supporters and allies—fear that he will pass a law granting himself legal immunity. Whether Bibi plans to do this or not, he has already publicly declared his scheme to limit the judiciary power of the Supreme Court

This is where President Reuven Rivlin enters the picture. It is up to him to consult each of the 13 elected parties and then formally ask a political leader to try to form a majority coalition. Typically, this right is placed in the hands of the leader of the largest party, which in this case is Mr. Netanyahu, the face of Lukid’s 30 seats. Technically though, President Rivlin could inquire any leader he deems fit, like Mr. Lapid.

Any which way, piecing together a majority coalition will prove incredibly difficult, if not impossible, given the heated climate. If Ra’am joins Mr. Netanyahu, he could lose the Religious Zionism group, which has openly stated that it refuses to serve in the same government as Ra’am, and if Mr. Lapid persuades Ra’am, two right-wing alliances of his will jump ship. In both instances, all logic and common sense are defied. In the best-case scenario, if a coalition is formed, it will be so factious, schismatic, fragile, and distraught that it most likely will not last more than a month or two at maximum.

At this point, serious dialogue about Israel’s next steps is needed and the uncomfortable questions about Israel’s electoral system, the functionality of its government, and the divisions between its parties—religious vs. secular, right-wing vs. left-wing, and Arab vs. Jewish—must be answered. So what is a viable solution? How do we put a long-awaited and desired end to this administrative stagnation? How do we terminate the murky deadlock and, at once, create a coalition that will not fall apart in an instant?

There are multiple possibilities in my view, some more plausible than others: 

  1. Advocate for the establishment of a “unity government” between parties like Likud and Yesh Atid which, although on opposite sides of the spectrum, both gravitate toward the center. In order for this to happen, Israeli politics would have to veer away from the personal and farther in the direction of the purely ideological. 
  2. Advocate for the establishment of a government that more pointedly bolsters Arab parties. This proposal seems more unlikely seeing as there exists an objection to such integration amongst a number of right-wing and anti-Netanyahu parties.
  3. Free the Knesset of the vigorous extremism that now pervades both sides of the divide. A handful of Knesset members who belong to Arab parties have always demonstrated their approval of Palestinian terrorism and hoped to discontinue Israel’s identification as a Jewish, democratic nation. But what we didn’t expect this election season was for several right-wing extremists to concur with their sentiment. In addition, the right side welcomed two unsavory radicals to the Religious Zionist party: Itamar Ben-Gvir, who praises a Jewish terrorist charged for slaughtering 29 Palestinian worshippers, and Avi Moaz, who is adamantly antagonistic to the LGBTQ+ community and Reform Judaism. And the left side—surprisingly, the Labor Party—embraced Ibtisam Mara’ana, who supports an operative from the Jihad terrorist organization and refuses to honor the IDF’s Memorial Day and all those who died serving their country. All in all, extremism seems to be an issue that requires addressing.
  4. Raise the current 3.25 percent threshold of voters needed to admit a party into Parliament. This would reduce the number of small camps, such as Ra’am and Yamina, gaining seats and carrying disproportionate power when it comes to negotiating and forming coalitions and governments. 
  5. Create multiple voting districts scattered throughout Israel, as opposed to having one nationwide district. This would encourage smaller parties and their supporters to be absorbed into larger ones, thus drawing more tallies for a united front.
  6. Form a makeshift, temporary technocratic government so a national budget can be created and the economy can pick up its pace.
  7. Anoint the leader of the largest party as prime minister, canceling the need to win any parliamentary majority. This would ensure that, as long as there is not a draw, Israel has a government after the election season. This is another less favorable route since it would mean Bibi, in this case, remaining in office. 
  8. Force Mr. Netanyahu out of office and off the political stage once and for all. The Israeli right-wing has an undeniable majority, and it could potentially have a stable, dare I say decent, government if Bibi leaves and a competent, skilled prime minister takes his place. What Israel is desperate for is a leader with a rich background in security and public work, a leader willing and able to convince Israeli citizens that they can lead Israel in the face of socio-economic, geopolitical, and international dilemmas, and most importantly, a leader that can actually lead.
  9. The left opens its gates to crucial groups like the Mizrahi Jews, who have, for a long time, been marginalized by the Ashkenazi elite. One of Mr. Netanyahu’s few accomplishments has been advancing the idea that Israel is a melting pot of different tribes, thus winning over more liberal groups. If the secular left is able to do what he has done on the same or a greater scale, maybe—just maybe—the stalemate will recede.

Israel is a capable country. It led the entire globe with its accelerated, innovative vaccine program, thus displaying to all its ability to operate smoothly and be a success. Nonetheless, given the lack of a national budget, frozen long-term infrastructure projects, a divided Knesset, and, on top of all of that, a fourth untelling election season, it has much work to do. The above nine pathways are all doable and most of them could be agreeable across the board. As long as Israel’s leaders and politicians decide to put their heads together and the nation’s citizenry and democracy above all else, all will be fine.

Sarah Gorbatov is a junior at ​the IDEA School and Institute in New Jersey. ​She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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