The results of Israel’s unprecedented third election offer little hope to undo the existing political turmoil that has gripped the country over the past year. Neither Likud nor Kahol Lavan, the major parties in this election and the two previous ones, was able to break the political stalemate and clear the path to the immediate formation of a majority government. The latest election, held on March 2, gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party 36 seats to rival Kahol Lavan’s 33.
In a video statement following the election, Netanyahu said that “the Likud and the right won the election in a knock-out.” While Likud did add four seats over the September election — in part the result of the prime minister’s successful smear campaign against rival leader Benny Gantz and a rise in turnout among the Israeli Ethiopian community — Likud and its supporting right-wing religious bloc failed to garner the 61-seat majority needed to form a government. The most straightforward way out of the deadlock would involve luring three defectors from opposition parties, a mission that — for now — is deemed impossible.
Kahol Lavan also appears ill-prepared to break the political stasis. Revisiting a previously-failed power-sharing deal with Likud — in the framework of a national unity government — is not likely to be the recipe for success. In early March, Gantz appeared to act in lockstep with his fellow leader, Yair Lapid, and ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. At the same time, Kahol Lavan party leaders Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi have rejected forming a government with the Arab Joint List, which surpassed its prior voting record and now holds 15 Knesset seats.
Efforts by the center-left, and supported by Yisrael Beiteinu, to push for legislation barring a criminal defendant from forming a government are unlikely to mitigate internal and cross-party differences. Faced with an upcoming trial, Netanyahu is determined to remain in power. The call for such a bill, which represents an amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, constitutes a clear attempt to block Netanyahu’s path to office. Until the next Knesset is sworn in, however, the bill will not move ahead. In the meantime, the proposed legislation will be used to pressure the Likud party — and its leader — into making political concessions.
Grace Wermenbol is a non-resident scholar at MEI who specializes in the contemporary geopolitics of the MENA region.
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