Israeli election scenarios: Possible paths to a majority

With neither  side having a decisive mandate, several leading combinations are emerging for a coalition government.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s election last week had no conclusive winner and leaders of the 13 parties that won seats in the Knesset were negotiating Tuesday to try and hammer together a coalition government.

Israelis are using the Hebrew term “plonter” to describe the political situation. It translates roughly to imbroglio or boondoggle – in other words, a messy situation to which there appears to be no exit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats, the most of any party, but his potential coalition partners currently combine to give him 52 seats, short of the 61 needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The other parties are:
Yesh Atid: 17
Shas: 9
Blue and White: 8
Yemina: 7
Labor: 7
United Torah Judaism (UTJ): 7
Israel Beiteinu: 7
Religious Zionism: 6
Arab Joint List: 6
New Hope: 6
Meretz: 6
Ra’am (United Arab List): 4

As the parties continue with high-stakes wheeling and dealing, their bottom line appears to be that a government must be formed in order to avoid going to another election later this year. That would be the fifth in just over two years and the fear is that failure to form a government could drive the public away from the ballot boxes.

Neither the right- nor left-wing in Israel can form a majority, so politicians are faced with the daunting task of having to go back on past commitments and compromise their ideology in order to rule the country.

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But just what will the new government in Israel look like? Here are the leading scenarios:

1. A new Netanyahu government

Netanyahu’s current right-wing allies are the religious Shas and UTJ parties and Religious Zionism. Yemina is a right-wing party, but it’s leader, Naftali Bennett, sees himself as a replacement to Netanyahu. Even with Yemina, Netanyahu would only have 59 seats.

Most other parties have categorically rejected being part of a Netanyahu-led coalition, except for Ra’am, whose leader Mansour Abbas has not ruled out supporting Netanyahu in return for more power for Israel’s Arab sector. However, Abbas refuses to sit in a government with the Religious Zionist party, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich said the same about Abbas. Bennett also said he would not join a Netanyahu government if Ra’am was needed to prop it up.

2. The ‘Bloc of Change’ Government

The right-wing New Hope party and centrist Blue and White both said they would never join Netanyahu, but they both have ideological problems with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. However, in order to change the government and depose Netanyahu, Yesh Atid, Blue and White, nationalistic Israel Beiteinu, the Joint List, Labor, New Hope and the left-wing Meretz party together have 57 seats. Joining with Ra’am would give them 61 and a majority.

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However, unlike Netanyahu, Lapid would be forced to also reach out to the Arab Joint List, and at that point parties like New Hope and its leader Gideon Saar have said they don’t want a government that is forced to rely on Arab members for support. Despite this, the fact that Likud members are speaking publicly about a coalition including Ra’am might give Saar an excuse to join a “bloc of change” coalition to achieve his goal of a non-Netanyahu government.

3. Naftali Bennett as prime minister

There has been talk of having a coalition to replace Netanyahu that is led by Bennett, even though his party won only seven seats. This is more of a long-shot because Bennett has been adamant that he would not govern if he had to rely on a far-left party like Meretz. In media interviews, Bennett has taken pains to say he is not ruling out any partner, but a Bennett-led coalition would require several leaders to go back on their pre-election promises.

4. A Saar-Bennett rotation

A less likely scenario is that Saar and Bennett agree to rotate in the prime minister’s chair to form a right-leaning government that could include Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Shas, UTJ and Religious Zionism, giving them 60 seats and a chance at swaying one member from another party like Likud or Israel Beiteinu to cross the floor to join them for 61. Less likely, but still being talked about, is that Labor and not Religious Zionism would join Saar and Bennett to give them 61 outright.

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5. A compromise prime minister

By law, President Reuven Rivlin will next week task the person he thinks has the best chance of forming a government, giving them 28 days to do just that. Should they fail, Rivlin can then give the job to somebody else, who will also have a limited time frame to achieve the task.

Should that fail, a majority of the Knesset members can then nominate a person of their choice who is not necessarily a party leader. Israelis on social media are proposing that an agreed-upon candidate be appointed who most members of Knesset have no objection to, with veteran Knesset member Benny Begin being the leading contender.

The son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, he is respected across political lines as one of the most honest and straight-talking members of the house who may be perceived as suitable compromise to lead the country out of the crisis.

6. The worst case scenario: new elections

Should the parties be unable to agree on a new government, the country will go back to the polls, most likely in September. That would leave Netanyahu at the helm of a transitional government where all members will keep their seats and the country will function, but new policies and a national budget cannot be passed.