By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
Tomorrow, Israeli citizens will go to the polls yet again. This election will be Israel’s fifth election in slightly less than four years after the last government survived for less than a year.
For students of political science, this political crisis in Israel is nothing new. Italy and Belgium, for instance, also have a long track record of similar political crises.
This Election Largely Depends on Netanyahu
The election and the big questions of politics, identity, and visions of the future depend upon one man: Benjamin Netanyahu. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a former commando officer and a former ambassador of the United Nations, Netanyahu exemplifies the great divide between the left and the right in this election.
Netanyahu’s supporters see any critique of his behavior as envy. Netanyahu is considered a successful man and a true maverick who fixed the Israeli economy and made it into a regional and international powerhouse.
In truth, even his detractors acknowledge some of Netanyahu’s success stories. However, they are quick to point out that Netanyahu accomplished his goals at the expense of societal solidarity and by exploiting social tensions in Israel society, pitting one sector against another.
Nothing is new in Israel’s fifth election cycle. Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption, and this trial has been going on for many months and is supposed to continue for many more months.
Israeli voters do not know more now than they knew in the past four election cycles. So what can be different now?
Even The New York Times, waxing poetic on the importance of the last four elections, has now taken a more cautious tone. After four previous elections, why should Israel’s fifth election be any different?
A Clear Victory by One Political Party Is Not Expected
Nobody is expecting a clear victory in Israel’s fifth election. Even Netanyahu is simply hoping for a small majority for his coalition. He needs 61 votes out of 120 members in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to achieve that majority.
Netanyahu might be dreaming of a 62-63 result in Israel’s fifth election, but that would the best-case scenario for him. On the other side, the anti-Netanyahu camp, his political adversaries are hoping for a draw. A 60-60 stalemate might force some members of the Netanyahu camp to say “enough is enough” and join a political coalition headed by a different leader.
Both sides are worried that they will lose votes for their parties, which will result in insufficient votes to enter the Knesset. In Israel, a political party must get a minimum of 3.25% of the votes, otherwise known as the electoral threshold, to have a seat in the Knesset. If a political party receives only 2.9% of the total votes in this election, for instance, that party will simply be thrown out and will count for nothing.
Both the right-wing and left-wing political parties are worried that many votes will end up in the trash bin after Israel’s fifth election. On the left, there is an Arab party, the National Democratic Alliance, that might not pass the electoral threshold.
If there is low voter turnout in the Arab sector, perhaps even two parties will be wiped off the political map, since the United Arab List is also hovering above the electoral threshold. In general, Arab voters tend to have lower voter turnout, according to The New York Times, so the split between the Arab parties in Israel might drive voter turnout down even lower.
On the right, there is a party focusing on the national religious vote, The Jewish Home, attempting to get support from voters who are unhappy with the militant, radical route their party is following. This party seems to be below the electoral threshold, and that might mean tens of thousands of votes for the Netanyahu camp might be lost.
The Likely Outcomes of Israel’s Fifth Election
The results of Israel’s fifth election will most likely be clear this Wednesday, so there is not much longer to wait. According to AP News, most pundits favor a small majority for Netanyahu, which would allow him to create a government. Other possible outcomes in this election include another deadlock or a small majority for the anti-Netanyahu camp.
If no political party gains a clear victory, will there be yet another election in 2023? Here, there might be a change.
There are voices in the Netanyahu camp who say that they will not be voting for a sixth election. The most vocal Netanyahu supporter is a Haredi party, United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Knesset member and UTJ leader Moshe Gafni has hinted in recent months that he does not want to see another election, according to the Times of Israel. Other members of the UTJ have remained quiet, and but have not denied that a sixth election is an option.
Jerusalem Post political commentator Eliav Breuer notes that “the unexpected may happen, as it happened last election, and a coalition may form of parties from the Center, Left and one or both of the haredi parties. But this coalition will have to deal with a constant tug of war between its secular wing and the demands of the haredi parties. And with the opposition expected to be no less tenacious than it was over the past year, it is highly doubtful that such a coalition could last a full four-year term.”
The coming days can chart a new course for Israeli politics for the next few years, but Israel’s fifth election is not about the core issues of Israeli identity. The deadlock in the polls is simply an outcome of a deeper divide in Israeli society concerning questions such as:
- What is the role of religion in Israel’s national identity?
- What part will Arab citizens play in Israeli society?
- What economic values should Israel uphold?
- What future path does Israel have regarding the Palestinians?
For the answers to these vital questions, we will need to wait several more years to better determine the future trajectory of Israeli society.
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