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March 24, 2021 12:23 pm

Israeli Experts, Ex-Officials Assess Shifting Election Math, Urge Avoiding New Elections

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party react following the announcement of the exit polls in Israel’s general elections at the party headquarters in Jerusalem, March 23, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

Israeli experts and former political officials weighed in Wednesday on the still-emerging 2021 election results, expressing hope that Israel’s politicians would manage to break the political deadlock and avoid yet another round of elections, but emphasizing that what will come next remains unclear.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported Wednesday that with 87% of the vote counted, the “pro-Netanyahu” bloc of parties has fallen from 56 seats to 52, while the “anti-Netanyahu” bloc — a diverse group of parties each seeking to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — dropped slightly to 56 mandates.

Neither bloc thus has a clear majority to form a government, with two wildcard parties — Yamina and Ra’am — appearing set to play potentially decisive roles.

Former Israeli ambassador to the UN and current Chairman of the World Likud Danny Danon told The Algemeiner that, although Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party, “I don’t think it’s a victory.”

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“I feel hope that when we see the final results there will be a majority for a Likud-led coalition,” he said, emphasizing that the final results are yet to be released.

He added that, while a possible coalition remains unclear, it is “crucial” for Netanyahu to form an initial government, “and it will be much easier to bring more people together. I think we are waiting to see.”

“I think it means you have to put the country before anything else,” he said of the current results. “And I expect the leaders from both sides to think about creative ideas.”

Asked whether there could be defectors from other parties or unexpected coalition partners for Netanyahu, he stated, “I think it’s possible because there are a few players that would not like to go for another election.”

In contrast, Daniel Seaman, the former head of the Government Press Office, told The Algemeiner, “It doesn’t look very promising. When you have about 75 to 80 seats that are in the right-wing, that should be a functioning government. This would be a paradise over the years for anybody who was on the right-wing.”

Seaman pointed to ongoing rivalries within the right-wing camp as the reason this has not happened — particularly the positions of rightists like New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who are both in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

“When you have both Sa’ar and Lieberman doing what they’re doing, they’re not going to join the government,” he said. “Maybe the only chance you have of getting defectors from these parties is if you set up a government. That’s what Bibi was hoping to do when he set up the government last year — once you get a number of defectors, then you can move on.”

“But having to rely on defectors … it’s politics, it’s the game — but that’s not how you have a healthy political system,” he asserted.

At the moment, Seaman argued, “It comes down to people deciding to start being more mature politically, and doing what’s in the best interest of the country — or going to a fifth election.”

Dr. Boaz Shapira, an expert in political science who teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, predicted that some members of the anti-Netanyahu camp might ultimately decide against going down a path leading to yet another round of elections

“Why should we have another election? Are we going to get another result after four elections?” he asked. “So, people say we have to prevent this. And this will bring people together.”

Among them, he speculated, could be members of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, which joined a Netanyahu-led coalition in order to avoid new elections last year.

“We have some people who can say to Gantz: you crossed the lines, and you did it, and you suffered so much from Netanyahu,” Shapira said. “But this time, it’s in another way. You’re not looking to be equal to the prime minister, but you can be the defense minister for the next four years.”

The same may hold for other Blue and White ministers, he said, such as Pnina Tamano-Shata, the current Minister of Aliyah.

“So they say, look, we will explain to people that we did it the first time to avoid an election. Now we’re going to avoid it [again],” Shapira said. “Maybe some people from the party of Gideon Sa’ar will cross the lines,” as well.

Another factor, he added, is that if the opposition gains control of the Knesset, “then it changes the game, because if they control the Knesset, they will pass laws as they want” — including laws targeted against the prime minister — and can elect the Knesset Speaker.

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