With the fourth consecutive election in 2 years failing to secure a government, questions regarding the reasons behind the deadlock loom.
Israel has been frequently referred to as the Middle East’s sole democracy. On the surface, this seems to be true — Lebanon, for example, is a democracy, but its structure is unstable. Throughout its seventy-year history, Israel has thrived to prove a functional democracy within the country. Nevertheless, holding four consecutive national elections in two years, none resulting in a functioning administration, proves that Israel now seems to be less functional.
In the latest round, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party gained the most Knesset seats, but still lacks the majority to form the government. The controversial prime minister has to struggle to put together a ruling alliance from a shrinking number of potential partners. The opposing party has 57 seats, while Likud and its right-wing religious and nationalist allies have 52. The United Arab List, headed by Mansour Abbas, and Yamina, a right-wing nationalist faction led by Naftali Bennett, are the wild cards. Netanyahu is even two seats short of a majority with Bennett on board.
Arab parties have been running in elections in Israel as part of an alliance identified as the Joint List since 6 years ago. Forming alliance increases the chances of these smaller parties and the Arab minority voting bloc winning seats in the Knesset, as parties must secure a 3.25-percent minimum percentage of votes to win any seats at all. This year, Abbas’ Islamist group broke from the Joint List. His willingness to form a government with either the Likud alliance or the center-left camp detached it from other groups as traitor.
The United Arab List, which was not supposed to pass the threshold, won four seats. This means Abbas’ approach might be decisive. In Israel, no single Arab group has ever joined a winning political coalition.
Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, expressed total disagreement with forming any sort of coalition with Arab parties, making any potential for forming majority Netanyahu coalition impossible.
In the meantime, the anti-Netanyahu alliance is nothing more than an ideologically inconsistent jumble of left-wing, moderate, and center-right groups unified only by their common contempt for Netanyahu and determination to depose him. It comprises the dwindling remains of Israel’s center-left Labor Party, the left-wing Meretz and the Arab Joint List, as well as Benny Gantz’s liberal centrist Blue and White Party.
Having conflict with all sides, you’re probably the issue. By the way, it is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not Mansour Abbas, who must learn the lesson right now. The Likud king, who has served as Prime Minister since 2009, has amassed so much political baggage and proved to be so controversial that the only debate in political and societal scenes of the country is whether he should stay or go.
Netanyahu’s own political party is split over him. Aspiring Likudniks have been expecting him to step down for years, so as to climb through the ranks of the party. Gideon Sa’ar, once seen as his potential replacer, unsuccessfully ran for Likud leadership in 2019. He split off and established New Hope, itself part of the anti-Netanyahu potential coalition.
The most likely outcome now is that no coalition can be formed and a fifth election is called. Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, has advocated gathering a Knesset coalition to pass laws banning convicted defendants from joining legislatures, followed by new elections. This will preclude Netanyahu from winning re-election to the premiership and push Likud to elect a new leader.
Israel cannot pass on from the volatile political situation that Netanyahu has generated as long as he remains the centre of focus. What follows after him may or may not be democratic, nonviolent, or hopeful, but the chances for some sort of reform in Israel will stay bleak until he is gone.