AMU Intelligence Middle East Original

Netanyahu and the Road Map for Israel’s Fifth Election

Knesset building in Jerusalem, Israel. Image courtesy of iStockphoto.

By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies

With Israel’s fifth election in three years scheduled to take place on November 1, the question remains the same as the other elections: will Benjamin Netanyahu be re-elected as Prime Minister or not? But to fully understand the possible paths for the upcoming election, it’s necessary to analyze the current demarcation lines in Israeli politics.

A Netanyahu Coalition and Possible Partners

The Likud – a major center-right to right-wing party in Israel – is behind Netanyahu. No one from Likud will oppose him, and he will most likely have a very supportive list of candidates as far as the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) is concerned.

Israel’s election primaries will be held in September, and all the candidates agree that Netanyahu is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The goal of the Likud is to get Netanyahu back again as Prime Minister. But to accomplish that goal, Likud needs to have a majority coalition of 61 members at least.

The Likud hopes that the natural partners for a Netanyahu government will create that number. Likud’s closest ally is the Religious Zionism party, a staunch right-wing party that wants to see continued settlement activity and no Palestinian state. 

The members of the Religious Zionism party will never join a left-wing coalition, and Netanyahu has them in his camp. However, this party is not big enough to get to the magic number of 61.

Consequently, Netanyahu needs more political partners. One option would be the Haredi political parties, Orthodox parties that have partnered with Netanyahu for many years.

These parties – United Torah Judaism and Shas – have always joined Netanyahu. But now, they fear their voters are slowly but surely moving closer to the Religious Zionist party or even the secular Likud.

Will they have enough votes to get Netanyahu’s coalition to a 61-member majority? It’s not certain. In addition, one Haredi leader, Knesset member Moshe Gafni, made it clear that he is not opposed to other prime ministers

The biggest problem Netanyahu has is the limited pool of supporters on the other side of the parliamentary aisle. He was able to slowly get some people to defect from the previous coalition. But in the coming November election, there will be strict vetting in the anti-Netanyahu camp to make sure no possible defectors will be on the ballot as they were in previous elections.

One party that Netanyahu was thinking of entering into a dialogue with is the United Arab List political party, an Islamist party that joined Netanyahu’s coalition in a revolutionary move. The issue is that his right-wing partners from the Religious Zionist party will not be willing to partner with this Islamist party. It is hard to see how Netanyahu will overcome that obstacle. 

The Political Parties of the Anti-Netanyahu Bloc

In the anti-Netanyahu bloc, there are diverse options. On the left, there are the Labor and Meretz political parties. Meretz does not have enough votes, according to current polls.

Naftali Bennett, the outgoing Prime Minister, will not run for re-election. His party, Yamina, is now positioning itself as right-wing but anti-Netanyahu. It might not get enough votes to enter the Knesset.

Yesh Atid, with its leader and current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, might end up as the second biggest party in the Knesset parliament after the Likud. That makes Lapid optimistic that he can maintain his position as Prime Minister.

The possible game changer is the recent unification of two parties – Blue and White and New Hope, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar, respectively. After the third election, Gantz seemed to be on the road to become Prime Minister but the deal he entered with Netanyahu fell through, diminishing his base.

Related link: The Netanyahu Case: A Tectonic Shift in Israeli Politics?

Sa’ar is a former Likud member who left the party because of his personal objection to Netanyahu. He positions himself as a right-wing conservative that promises to maintain the values of the right, just without Netanyahu.

This unification of Blue and White and New Hope creates a strong base of center and center right voters and makes Gantz a possible contender for the position of Prime Minister since he has a good working relationship with the Orthodox parties. These parties might prefer to see him as Prime Minister and the two political parties as coalition members, instead of a sixth election cycle.

This unification is also important for the future political career of Sa’ar. According to The Jerusalem Post, “A KAN report in April predicted that Gantz and Sa’ar could run together due to the crisis within the coalition. At the time, the New Hope party had barely crossed the 3.25% electoral threshold in polls but would be able to remain in the Knesset if combined with Gantz’s party.

“In early June, Sa’ar had denied reports that he was in talks with Likud to form an alternate government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that he is ‘responsible more than anyone for Netanyahu being removed from power.’”

Netanyahu Will Have to Develop Solutions to Avoid a Sixth Election Cycle

In Israel, it appears that the deadlock of the past few years will continue. There is a split among Israeli constituents, and the only person who can solve this problem is Netanyahu.

If Netanyahu decides to retire from politics, then Israel’s right-wing parties will form a coalition in no time. If that does not happen, then the only other viable option to stop a sixth election is for one of the political parties to achieve a small majority, in order to create a more homogeneous bloc that will not collapse after a year in power.

Ilan Fuchs

Dr. Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., an LL.M. and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the University, Ilan teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

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