Political Deadlock Persists in Israel

Preliminary results from Israel’s fourth election indicate that the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may not be able to assemble a coalition that would enable him to stay in power.

A surprise amid the results involved the smaller of two Arab parties gaining enough votes to be granted four seats in the new Knesset. What is, perhaps, even more surprising is that the Raam party might be prepared to join a government led by Netanyahu, despite his firm right-wing stance.

The Prime Minister put the success of Israel’s world-leading vaccination programme at the centre of his election campaign but has been criticised for mistakes early in the pandemic. He is also under pressure for refusing to step down after being indicted on three separate charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

When the Election Commission announced the final count on Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party and their allies have only won 52 seats in Knesset, 9 seats short of a majority. And another right-wing party led by his former ally, Naftali Bennett, only won 7 seats. So, even if they join the other Likud allies, they would still fall short of a majority.

There will be some days of delay now until Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, invites one of the party leaders to attempt to form a governing coalition.

Some of them have already started discussions about possible coalitions, e.g. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman; but currently there are no obvious routes to success. So, they agreed to stay in touch, as will many of Israel’s politicians.

7th April is the deadline for Reuven Rivlin to invite a party leader to form the next government. That leader will then have 28 days to do so. But this could be a long process with much uncertainty and frustration along the way.

The central question of Israeli politics currently is whether people want Benjamin Netanyahu to continue as Prime Minister. The answer may be slow coming.