For Israel’s Political Players, Election Day Is Only the Halfway Point
As far as Israeli voters are concerned, national elections are what shape Israel’s political system — but for Israel’s politicians, they only mark the halfway point.
The reason for this is deeply tied to the structure and nature of Israel’s political system. To form a government, a party chairperson must have the support of at least 61 Members of Knesset. But with so many political parties, that is no simple matter.
Only when the exit polls come through, usually at 10 p.m. on election day, can the real calculations begin.
In today’s election, the fifth in three-and-a-half years, the two main blocs are, once again, divided into the “Bibi” and “Just not Bibi” camps. This is essentially the only political game in town.
In one corner is an entire political camp determined to boycott Netanyahu. It refuses to accept him, partly because he is facing trial on corruption charges. But Netanyahu has continued to dominate the political scene, while at the same time mounting a legal defense in court.
The current threshold for a party to enter the Knesset is four seats. This is especially a concern for the anti-Netanyahu camp, which features a number of parties on the verge of the threshold. Among them are Labor and Meretz, which, based on the final polls, are likely to gain four to five seats each.
The Arab Joint List split up in this election season, and its three component parties are each fighting to get over the threshold line. The elections may, in the end, be decided by the Arab-Israeli sector, where wasted votes could end up boosting the Netanyahu camp if one of the major Arab parties fails to get past the threshold.
The Arab Israeli street is well known for punishing its leaders when they split up into smaller parties. Voting percentages are consistently higher when the Arab parties join forces. As a result, Prime Minister Yair Lapid has made an effort to encourage Arab-Israelis to go out and vote.
Lapid cannot become the next prime minister if one of the major Arab parties fails to get into the Knesset. However, if Netanyahu also fails to gain the 61 votes he needs to form a government, Lapid will stay on as prime minister of a transitional government. Another spell as Israel’s leader would boost his image, which is already strengthened by the fact that he has been in charge of military campaigns, international affairs, and the maritime border agreement with Lebanon — which is controversial with his opponents, and popular with supporters.
The Netanyahu camp has been strengthened, meanwhile, by the ability of right-wing religious nationalist politicians Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir to unite into a joint Religious Zionist list.
Likud’s power has been eroded by the rise of Ben Gvir, who, according to polls, has convinced many young voters, including from Likud, to give him their ballot. If the polling proves to be correct, the Religious Zionist list will demand many ministries when it enters the government.
Meanwhile, Ayelet Shaked, a highly capable political player who now leads her own party, the Jewish Home, is running so poorly that she may not make it into the Knesset. Netanyahu had attempted to remove her from the race to ensure that the two seats she is worth will go to him.
In the unlikely event that Shaked does get past the threshold, Netanyahu will find himself completely dependent on her to form a government, due to the expected tight results between the two political blocs.
If neither camp is able to form a government, a third option exists — namely that Benny Gantz, chairman of the National Unity party, does so. Gantz, a former partner of Lapid turned competitor-rival, believes he could get the needed 61 votes, though it is difficult to see how with the current math.
One option is that Gantz becomes prime minister with Likud entering a rotation government under his lead. Another is that Gantz is able to somehow reel in the ultra-Orthodox parties to his government, though this looks improbable.
At the end of the day, voting patterns are not likely to change much from the past round of elections. With every election costing over a billion shekels and wasting so much time, Israel’s politicians are beginning to appear ridiculous.
Israeli voters are asking how they can entrust them to lead, when they cannot even get along with one another.
Danielle Roth-Avneri is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. She is an Israeli political commentator. She appears on the This Morning Program on Channel 13 Reshet TV. She is former parliamentary correspondent of Israel Hayom, the most widely read newspaper in Israel.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.