By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
Israel’s latest election is now over. This election in Israel was the fifth in less than four years, but will it be the last we’ll see for a while?
The official results will be announced this Friday or next week, but the counting is over. The Benjamin Netanyahu camp has 64 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. That result gives the Likud, Netanyahu’s political party, a majority in the Knesset.
In a previous article, I predicted that Netanyahu was expecting at least 61 seats in this election, so for him, 64 seats is cause for celebration. However, those 64 seats are not the result of new voters. Actually, the gap between the Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs was less than 4,000 votes.
Why Was Netanyahu Able to Attain a Majority?
Why Netanyahu won was not because of a major shift in the electorate, but the rules of the Israeli political system. Similar to the American electoral system, Israel does not always give primacy to the popular vote. So why did Israel’s latest election create a solid majority for Netanyahu and his party? The short answer is Israel’s electoral threshold.
This concept exists in parliamentary systems such as Israel’s. It is meant to limit the power of small parties to use their votes in coalition building, so that they don’t have disproportionally high levels of power that exceeds their number of seats in a parliament.
The current electoral threshold in Israel is 3.25%; it has risen over the years from 2% to limit the power of Israel’s religious parties. Now, the parties that supported this change in the electoral threshold – just a few years ago – have suffered the most as a result.
Two parties from the anti-Netanyahu camp – Meretz and the National-Democratic Alliance – were just below the threshold. As a result, their combined votes will not count.
Meretz is a left-wing party that is known for carrying two flags. This political party supports the creation of a Palestinian state and the separation of church and state in Israel.
In 1992, Meretz was at its peak with 12 seats in the Knesset. However, the collapse of the peace process and the rise of Hamas as the most dominant force in Palestinian society had serious effects on Meretz’s popularity.
Now the constant growth of the religious communities in Israel has made Meretz disappear. This party was short by about 4,000 votes; if Meretz had gotten those votes, Netanyahu would have had either a smaller majority or the election would have ended with yet another tie.
The second party that failed to pass the electoral threshold was the National-Democratic Alliance, an Arab-secular political party that calls for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state. On the Israeli left, the blame has been put on the shoulders of Yair Lapid, Israel’s current prime minister and the leader of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, according to Haaretz.
Netanyahu and The Future Government of Israel
What will the future government of Israel look like? Netanyahu will rely on religious parties that will want to cash in on their allegiance to Netanyahu and compensate for the problems in their constituencies in the past year and a half. This type of government will mean budgetary concerns and ministerial roles.
For instance, right-wing party Religious Zionism will want control of Israel’s educational resources, strengthening religious authorities in Israel and advancing settlement activity. Similarly, right-wing Haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas will want to ensure budgetary support for educational systems and no state interference in the educational system’s independence.
Reactions from Other Middle Eastern Governments
In the region, the first reaction came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to the Jerusalem Post, Erdoğan stated that he “expect[s] to sustainably maintain our relations with Israel based on mutual respect for sensitivities and shared interests, no matter how the Palestinians expressed concern on the return of Netanyahu. Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told Reuters: “It is clear that the Israelis are leaning towards more extremism, which also means aggression against our people would increase, Netanyahu-led governments that launched several wars against our Palestinian people, and the presence of the most extreme figures in a coalition means that we are going to face more of the Zionist terrorism”.
Netanyahu will try to jump-start the advances made by the Abraham Accords and find common ground with the Gulf States, Egypt and Turkey. Their governments are worried about Iranian encroachment in their countries and that Iran will achieve nuclear weapons technology and use it to dominate Sunni-led nations.
With the Palestinians, there is no reason to expect a change. Without a clear leader who can unite the Palestinian people, there is no path for negotiations. A more likely outcome is the continued fracturing of Palestinian society, the rise of more militias and the degradation of the Palestinian Authority’s power.
Voters Like Politicians Who Make Comebacks
The Netanyahu victory comes soon after the reelection of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the presidency in Brazil. Clearly, voters like politicians to make comebacks and that idea is worth remembering for U.S. elections in the future.
But luck can play a role in political elections, too. After all, the Netanyahu camp won a majority with only 4,000 more votes than the anti-Netanyahu bloc. In this latest election, the Israeli left failed to understand that the growth of the religious community in Israel demands a change in the political narrative of the left. Aggressive anti-religious rhetoric, a remnant of the socialist verbiage of the 20th century, has created a chasm between religious voters and the left. That ideological gap cost the Israeli left this election. The Israeli center was able to draw some religious voters but did not garner enough votes to win the election. The puritan political discourse of the Israeli left is responsible for their failure.