Election stalemate: Israeli parties search for winning combinations

With no clear winner, several possible combinations are emerging as Israel’s political parties burn the midnight oil wheeling and dealing.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s political parties are attempting to find a winning combination after Israel’s fourth national election in the past two years.

The 13 parties elected to the 120-seat Knesset are negotiating with each other to find a power-sharing arrangement whereby several of them together would make at least a 61-seat majority in the house.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 30 seats, the most of any party, but its potential coalition partners of the religious Shas (9) United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionist (6) parties gives it a bloc of only 52 seats.

The opposition bloc that wants to oust Netanyahu from power is headed by the center-Left Yesh Atid party (17) and includes Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White (8), nationalist Israel Beiteinu (7), Labor (7), New Hope (6), the left-wing Meretz (6) and the Arab Joint List (6), but that only comes to 57 seats.

The potential kingmakers are the right-wing Yemina Party (7), headed by Naftali Bennett, and the Islamist Ra’am Party (4), led by Manour Abbas with a total of 11 potential swing votes.

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However, it’s difficult to imagine Bennett going over to the opposition, or ‘change bloc’ as it’s now calling itself. Even Gideon Saar of New Hope, who has been counted with the opposition until now, says he will only join an opposition government if Bennett does so as well.

Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party met with Ra’am’s Abbas on Tuesday to convince him to join the opposition bloc. Gantz has also asked Bennett to join with the opposition. In a Tuesday tweet addressed to both, Gantz said “Bibi is using you.”

Under the Israeli system, the head of state, President Reuven Rivlin, will invite representatives of all 13 parties to his official residence this week to ask them who they recommend to form a government. Rivlin will give whomever has the best chance of forming a coalition a month to put together a government.

There are currently four options being discussed in the Hebrew press.

The first is that Netanyahu will manage to convince Bennett to join him, putting him at 59 seats and then peel away at least two defectors from other parties to reach the 61-seat majority.

The second alternative is for Lapid to cobble together the opposition parties whose ideologies span the political spectrum from Left to Right, but who all share the common goal of wanting to oust Netanyahu.

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A third possibility comes from Bennett, who has said in the past that he sees himself as a candidate to lead the country. It is not clear whether he can overcome his history of harsh anti-leftist comments to win the support of Meretz and Labor. Given that his  party only has seven seats, it’s also hard to see why other parties would accept him as prime minister.

A fourth option is that the country heads to a fifth round of elections.

There are still two months of potential wheeling and dealing left for the parties to make compromises before the country will be faced with the daunting scenario of having to return to the polls later this year, most likely in the fall, to try again.