By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
On June 20, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his political ally, Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid, announced there is no hope of stabilizing the current coalition of several political parties in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and that they will support a new election. This election will be Israel’s fifth in three years.
The collapse of this coalition is not a surprise to anyone. The coalition is an amalgamation of right-wing parties, left-wing parties and even an Islamist party that all had one thing in common: they did not like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Goals of Bennett and Lapid
In a joint press conference, Bennett and Lapid said they do not believe there is a chance to get more support for the coalition. Both right-wing and left-wing coalition members have broken ranks multiple times, leaving the coalition with losses on major votes. Even though there was never a loss in a no-confidence vote, it was still clear the Israeli government cannot function and pass laws.
Bennett announced that they will bring up a vote for an early election soon and he will step down so that Yair Lapid could be Prime Minister until the next election. According to the Jerusalem Post, Lapid commented: “A year ago, we started the process of rebuilding, and now we’re carrying it on and carrying it on together…What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity – not to let dark forces tear us apart from within. We must remind ourselves that we love one another, love our country, and that only together will we prevail.”
In theory, there is still time to stabilize Israel’s government until the vote for a new election but that seems unlikely. Even if the two left-wing members who have been breaking ranks decide to resign and let the next right-wing candidate in line take office, there is no one they can add, leaving the coalition with only 60 members.
Bennett and Lapid hope that in this fifth election, they will be able to achieve two goals. First, they want to get two more seats in the Knesset, ensuring a more stable government.
Second, Bennett and Lapid want to make sure that all the anti-Netanyahu parties will build a list of candidates that are committed to the idea of a broad coalition between left and right. Ideally, those people should be willing to cooperate with parties from the other side of the aisle for the sake of that goal.
The election will most likely take place this November. That date will give the different political party members time to run in primaries in late July and August.
Netanyahu’s Reaction to the Fifth Election
Upon hearing the announcement by Bennett and Lapid, Netanyahu was most likely elated and could even say, “I told you so.” As Netanyahu has implied multiple times, a coalition government that was based on its personal disdain of him was doomed to fail.
But what now? Even though Netanyahu’s corruption case is not going well in light of recent prosecution failures, this trial will continue for a long time. There is a real chance that Netanyahu will be convicted for something, even if it is a minor conviction in comparison to the original indictment.
But it does not seem like Netanyahu really cares at this point. Netanyahu wants to run for Prime Minister again, knowing that he could be found guilty while still in office.
According to the Washington Post, Netanyahu released a video on Twitter that said: “A government that depended on terror supporters, which abandoned the personal security of the citizens of Israel, that raised the cost of living to unheard-of heights, that imposed unnecessary taxes, that endangered our Jewish entity. This government is going home. My friends and I will form a government … that, above all, will return the national pride to the citizens of Israel.”
It is not likely anyone else in the Netanyahu-led Likud party will be running against Netanyahu in the primaries, and there is reason to believe that other right-wing parties will be strengthened. What Netanyahu really wants is to get a coalition up and running with the right-wing parties in the Knesset.
However, that outcome is highly unlikely. Even though Netanyahu would only need two or three renegades, it is hard to see where he will find any since most of those members have little expectations of a political career even if they jump ship.
What Will the Next Election Bring?
In an article I wrote last year before the fourth election, I commented that The New York Times described the election as critical. I mentioned that the New York Times is yet another example of how Western media sees the world with Western eyes, overlooking the very distinct possibility that Israel will end exactly where it started.
According to polls, we will probably see another divided Israeli parliament that will make the possibility of a coalition unlikely as long as Netanyahu is the Likud candidate. Until Netanyahu decides to retire, this outcome is very likely.
If Netanyahu stays in power and the fifth election is similar to the last four, the only other option for a solidified Knesset and a stable government would be for religious fundamentalist Haredi parties – representing the Orthodox communities that were big supporters of Netanyahu – to join a coalition without Netanyahu. The Haredim could choose to seek government support for their communities and a strengthening of the Jewish identity of Israel.
That scenario is possible but will require left-wing support, which is contrary to the core secularist character of Haredi’s political messaging. That will depend upon what the Haredim disdain more: Netanyahu or the state support of religion.