Unprecedented Third Election in Israel

After a second failure to form a coalition government, Israelis are now heading for another election in March 2020 – the third one in less than twelve months, which is unprecedented.

Yesterday, Israel’s Knesset agreed to disband and chose 2nd March as the date for the third election, following the earlier rounds in April and September.

But many people are concerned that there is no sign a third round of voting will unlock the political stalemate that has almost paralysed Israel’s parliamentary system this year.

Indeed, some think it likely that feelings will be further polarised and the level of frustration with the politicians increased.

Benjamin Netanyahu enters this third round with an extra burden -- an impending trial over three corruption charges. A poll published by Channel 13 TV indicated that 41 percent of Israelis think he is to blame for the political deadlock, whilst only 5 percent blame his rival, Benny Gantz.

The new election is said to be deeply unpopular, with one group estimating that the total cost to Israel’s economy will be 12 billion shekels ($3.4 billion, £2.6 billion).

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny GantzBenjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz (photo: Reuters)

So it is not surprising that accusations have been flying between the politicians. Netanyahu claimed that Gantz’s Blue and White Party:

“want to hide the fact that they did everything possible to avoid
the establishment of a broad national unity government.”

Blue and White replied on Twitter with the suggestion that Mr Netanyahu:

‘save a few lies for the campaign.’

In the Knesset, Yair Lapid, Blue and White’s deputy leader, bemoaned the fact that:

“What used to be a celebration of democracy has become a moment of shame for this building.”

Today it has emerged that Benjamin Netanyahu will resign from the ministerial positions he holds, but retain his role as Prime Minister.

Israel’s Supreme Court had received a petition from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that, in light of his indictments, he step down from ministerial roles covering agriculture, diaspora, health and welfare – something he is obliged to do under Israeli law.

Such is the gravity of the situation that Avigdor Liberman, Chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, today echoed comments made previously by Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who said he would consider pardoning the prime minister if Netanyahu was to confess to his crimes and retire from political life.

But at least one commentator can see a positive side of the situation, noting that Israel’s system of proportional representation is not like the US system ‘where only a few states are really in play.’ And it’s not like the British first-past-the-post system where parties can win millions of votes and get no seats in parliament. In Israel’s system every vote counts.

So rather than look at a third round of voting as proof of the system’s failure, David Horovitz suggests that it is enabling the Israeli electorate ‘to work through the hugely sensitive decision of who should lead this country, and thus how and where it should be led, a little more protractedly than is the norm.’

Horovitz suggests that ‘perhaps our system is actually working for us rather than against us … The choice Netanyahu now presents to the electorate is far starker than it was in April or even September.’