Israel holds its fourth general election in two years on Tuesday after the coalition government collapsed in December.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party remain popular. However, the latest opinion polls indicate that the election is unlikely to provide the country with much-needed stability and its the outcome remains unpredictable.
While Likud has a slight lead in the polls, Netanyahu faces a dynamic that did not exist in previous elections. Israel’s political landscape has changed, and it could save the election much more difficult for the longtime leader.
The latter notwithstanding, no major deviations or surprises are expected, according to Uriel Abulof, associate professor of politics at Tel Aviv University.
“Polls in Israel have been largely accurate before, so it’s reasonable to believe that about half of the electorate supports a Netanyahu-led coalition, about half not,” Abulof told Al Jazeera.
New problems for Netanyahu
The reason for the uncertainty is mainly based on the competition for Netanyahu from the right. Gideon Saar’s new hope has the potential to upset the balance of power in the vote as it is barely distinguishable from Likud programmatically and is currently expected to become the third strongest party in the Knesset – a prediction which, if correct, would inevitably cost votes in Netanyahu.
New Hope votes with 12 seats, behind just eight seats behind the main opposition party Yesh Atid (20) and 17 behind Netanyahu’s Likud (29). The 120 seats in the Knesset require a majority of 61, but no party has ever won a majority on its own.
As such, he poses a threat to Netanyahu in his efforts to facilitate another right-wing religious coalition with other parties, as New Hope does not position itself within the dogmatic framework of the traditional right-left dynamic of Israeli politics. , but mainly as a anti-corruption and anti-Netanyahu movement.
However, the Saar and Netanyahu share various ideological similarities, such as settlement policies and the question of the Palestinian state – although the Saar’s point of view can be seen as more pro-Israel than that of Netanyahu.
New Hope and the Saar offer voters a highly pro-Israel right-wing agenda, but without the stigma of corruption and dismay at constitutional standards, Netanyahu has displayed in recent times.
In the worst-case scenario, the arrival of New Hope could prevent Netanyahu from forming a majority in the bloc of right-wing and religious parties without New Hope. Especially since Naftali Bennett, head of Yamina, openly declared nor would he be part of a government led by Netanyahu.
New Hope’s ability to overthrow Netanyahu will hinge hugely on his ability to reach voters, said Simon Mabon, professor of international politics at Lancaster University.
“The anti-corruption agenda in Israeli politics has been extremely important and may well play an important role in this election, but New Hope’s popularity appears to be waning… It remains to be seen whether they can reestablish some form of momentum. around an anti-corruption and anti-Netanyahu agenda, ”Mabon told Al Jazeera.
Struggle for relevance
The requirement in Israel’s diverse and fragmented political system to govern in coalitions adds yet another degree of volatility to each election. The main parties are far from being the only decisive factor. Several small parties can potentially enter the Knesset and impact majorities, noted Abulof.
“Much will depend on the ability of several parties, in particular the center-left, to exceed the electoral threshold of 3.25%,” he said.
What makes the left vote so crucial is not so much that there is a conceivable path for a government, but that some of these parties could become a deciding factor when Likud, Yesh Atid, Yamina or New Hope start. to build potential coalitions.
Israel’s Labor Party, for example, is likely to win six seats, while Meretz is currently at three and struggling to cross the aforementioned threshold. The Common Arab List, which won 15 seats in previous elections, has broken down and no longer runs together, leaving it with nine seats.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s former coalition partner Benny Gantz and his Blue-White alliance votes to just five seats, which is one less than 11 compared to the last election. Voters and supporters have apparently not forgiven Gantz for breaking his word never to enter into a coalition with Netanyahu. The price Gantz is paying now is the descent of the country’s deputy prime minister into oblivion. However, Gantz’s loss of voice indicates that the desire for an anti-Netanyahu coalition remains strong.
But none of the aforementioned facts can deny that neither the pro-Netanyahu camp nor the anti-Netanyahu camp have a clear path to a majority coalition, although Netanyahu has already promised that there will be no fifth election.
“Netanyahu seems confident that he can form a government, which would include Likud, Shas, Unified Torah Judaism, Religious Zionist Party and Yamina. However, this will require political wrangling to establish a stable coalition, ”Mabon said.
Even if such a scenario were realistic, it may not be enough.
“The constellation might not get the necessary seats and other parties such as the Otzma Yehudit party might be needed, which would result in pushing this coalition further to the right of Israeli politics,” Mabon added.
Netanyahu himself has also already limited his options by saying he will not enter into a coalition with the former Member of the Ra’am Joint List.
“While building a coalition that includes Ra’am would establish a coalition of right-wing parties, the underlying factor concerns Netanyahu’s apparent efforts to decimate the Arab List,” Mabon said.
More at stake for Netanyahu
Saar, who was education and home minister under Netanyahu, had previously challenged the prime minister internally for party leadership – an offer he lost. He then left his political home since Likud had become “a cult of personality and a tool of the Prime Minister”.
The Saar ratio could be emblematic of the situation in Israel, with more and more Israelis appearing to agree. Likud is set to lose eight seats and anti-Netanyahu protests have been taking place in Israel for several months. People are increasingly tired of the elections, many of whom accuse Netanyahu and his shenanigans outside the Knesset.
This is a crucial election for Netanyahu with far more at stake than just his political post.
After the vote, his trial for alleged corruption will continue. As prime minister, he may have options to postpone the trial or attempt to gain parliamentary immunity a second time. Leaving government would be much less favorable. If Netanyahu wins, his priorities, according to Abulof, are obvious: “Avoid trial, and certainly jail.”
Therefore, it was all the more important for Netanyahu to have a successful election campaign, as he focused on two issues in particular.
On the one hand, he spoke of his foreign policy successes as a peacemaker with the Arab states, without having to make any notable concessions to the Palestinians. With the help of former President Donald Trump, he quickly ratified standardization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and announced a declaration of intent with Sudan.
The other axis is the vaccination campaign against the coronavirus. “Israel is the world champion in immunization,” Netanyahu recently wrote in a tweet. So far, the country has indeed made a name for itself with the rapid and widespread vaccination of its citizens, unprecedented in the world. However, the situation is not as simple as it now appears.
“The Israeli government has failed miserably throughout the year, but the vaccination has been successful. Netanyahu is the first scapegoat and claims the credit of the second, ”Abulof said.
On polling day, the question will be whether voters remember the government’s much criticized COVID-19 and lockdown policy, or the successful vaccination campaign.
But it increasingly appears that the elections will not resolve Israel’s problems and the political impasse.
Regardless of what the ruling coalition may look like, it seems inconceivable that it could provide Israel with the necessary stability and a prime minister who can not only maintain and work in a coalition, but also ensure that it or at the service of the Israeli people in an economic situation which gives even more questions than answers.