The legislative election in Israel took place on the 23rd of March 2021 and it was the country’s fourth election organized in only two years. The Israeli unicameral legislature, Knesset, is made up of 120 seats. Therefore, for a party or for a coalition to obtain a majority, a number of at least 61 seats is needed. As expected, the election ended in a deadlock and a fifth election is very probable to be held. The Israeli society remains divided, while the political and constitutional crises have deepened in the past few years.
The exit polls predicted that the Likud party, which is the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would come out first, holding about 30-33 of the seats in the parliament, while the main opposition party, Yesh Atid, would occupy the second place, with 16-18 of the Knesset places. The exit polls proved to be accurate, as the Likud party won 30 seats and Yesh Atid obtained 17 seats. All of the other parties have occupied seats in the parliament as follows: Shas nine seats; Blue and White eight seats; Yamina, Labor, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu seven seats each; The Religious Zionist Party, Joint List, New Hope, and Meretz six seats each; and Ra’am only four seats.
The final statements show that Netanyahu has formed a right-oriented coalition, which also includes an ultra-Orthodox party, having 52 seats, while the opposition coalition has 57 seats and the rest of the seats, 11, go to other two independent parties. In this situation, it is difficult for each side to get to hold the 61 seats that would lead to a majority, and for now, the state is in a stand-off. While for Benjamin Netanyahu the fact that he could not be removed yet was good news, the failure to form a cohesive coalition in the parliament did not make him and his allies satisfied at all with the result of the election.
This is the 24th Knesset in the history of Israel and it will be the most divided one that the state has seen so far, comprising 13 parties that have obtained seats in the parliament, compared to only 8 parties that got the same results in the previous election. The divided Knesset is a problem and a challenge for the state, as tensions and chaos are very like to arise in a parliament where 13 parties try to impose their agendas. This would make the political regime and the government unstable, which not a positive aspect for the internal, as well as for the external politics of Israel. Also, as the Al-Monitor newspaper stated, tensions of ideological, sectorial, and even ethic origin are likely to appear in the newly formed legislative.
The majority in Knesset is so important because it determines which side will have a say in both internal and external issues of the state, in the laws that would be adopted in the next period and, also, because a majority in the Israeli legislative would be the one to determine the new government, including the Prime Minister. Even though the president has the duty of naming the PM, he must respect the decisions of the electorate and act in accordance with its will. Therefore, the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, will name the new Prime Minister of the country and there are debates regarding who will occupy the function and which parties will have members in the new government. Benjamin Netanyahu has been the PM of Israel for the past 12 years. There are many parties and persons that want Mr. Netanyahu out of his function, mostly from the coalition that has formed against him and that has overcome the PM’s coalition in the number of Knesset-owned places. The new and slightly stronger coalition aims at coming with a proposal for a new government, a proposal that leaves the current PM and his political allies out of the scheme.
Maybe one of the most important stakes of the whole election process is with regards to the function of the Prime Minister and who will occupy this place, as well as the collaboration between the legislative and the executive. Those are serious problems for Israel, keeping in mind the current situation, which is marked by a divided legislative branch, with no majority and a deadlock in the decision-making process. There are two examples of persons that are more likely to replace Mr. Netanyahu. One is Naftali Bennet, the leader of the Yamina party and the other one is Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid, the second-largest party in Israel according to the number of seats distributed in the unicameral legislative.
For the moment, two parties have not joined either of the coalitions and the opposite would surely lead to a majority for one of the sides. The two parties are Yamina and New Hope. The way in which the situation will proceed is not clear and there are many possibilities regarding the composition of the future government. On the one hand, Likud fears that there are chances for the two parties to turn against Netanyahu’s coalition, while, on the other hand, it is obvious that the only chance for Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu to maintain his position and to form the new government is to attract Mr. Naftali Bennett and his wight-wing party, Yamina, to his side.
This makes the position of Naftali Bennett a difficult one. He could join Netanyahu’s coalition, which ideologically matches his party’s political views, in the sense that both have a right-oriented perspective and that they favor the annexation of Israeli settlements. Contrary to this situation, the leader of the Yamina party also has the opportunity to join the coalition led by Yesh Atid. The coalition is a left-oriented one and a coalition that would presuppose cooperation with the Meretz party, which sustains the solution of the two states in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means that Mr. Bennett would break the promises that he made to his voters and that his party’s credibility would be badly affected. He was elected by right-wing voters and joining a coalition that has very different political views would certainly not be good news for the people that voted for Yamina. But, at the same time, choosing the second option could make him the Prime Minister of Israel, as the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Mr. Lapid, promised. He tweeted: “There is nothing I am unwilling to consider, no stone we will not turn, and no option we will not weigh in order to form a government of change and remove Netanyahu”. This means that Yair Lapid is ready to make any compromise and ally with any party if this is necessary in order to beat and get rid of the current Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to attract both Bennett and Saar, the leader of the New Hope party, to his side, ever since the results of the election came out, knowing that they are his only chance to remain in power. He publicly called for the leaders to form a right-oriented majority: “Let’s put our personal differences behind us and form a stable right-wing government”. It is not very probable for Saar to join Netanyahu’s coalition, while Bennett’s position remains uncertain, but through his statement, the PM intended to make the right-wing voters apply pressure on the two parties to join his side.
Negotiations for forming the new government are due to be started on the 5th of April by president Reuven Rivlin. In the remaining days, the leaders of New Hope and of Yamina are expected to decide which side they would join.
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About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.