Third Time Unlucky: Hung Parliament Persists in Israel

Netanyahu Fails to Secure Majority Despite Winning Third General Election

Third Time Unlucky: Hung Parliament Persists in Israel

On March 2, 2020 Israel held its third election in almost 12 months, as a political deadlock that prevented both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Alliance from forming a governing coalition. During last year’s April election, both parties gained an equal 35 seats, the following one in September resulted in a Blue and White victory as it gained 33 seats, just one above the Likud. The exit polls seemed to indicate that the country was finally going to move beyond its deadlock, and the early wave of results seemed to go in Netanyahu’s favour. Nevertheless, as the night went on it became clear that the political establishment would be back to square one and no party had enough seats to secure a majority needed to form a government.


The exit poll prompted Benjamin Netanyahu to celebrate on stage in front of his supporters, declaring the election as the “biggest win of my life”. After 90 percent of the results were shown, 59 seats had been declared for Likud, however, things would soon go downhill from here. Soon after more votes were counted and Likud actually lost a seat bringing the right-wing party’s total to 58, three shy of a majority. As of the writing of this article, 99 percent of the votes have been counted and Netanyahu is still three seats short of a majority. This does not bode well for Netanyahu because back in April 2019 he had won 60 seats and only needed one opposing Member of the Knesset (MK) to defect to his side and secure the majority he required. If it was difficult to persuade one MK to come to his side, it will be a much harder task to persuade three.


Though persuading opposition Knesset members will be a difficult task, Netanyahu has little options left at his disposal. Netanyahu could opt for forming a minority government, but these are rare in Israel’s history. Back in 1950, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion attempted to form a minority government, but the Knesset did not approve of it. Since then minority governments have formed not after elections, but rather midway through Knesset sessions after certain parties defected from governing coalitions. For instance, the 1999 Barak minority government was formed after Meretz, the National Religious Party and Shas withdrew from the coalition. Evidently, it can be concluded that unlike other parliamentary democracies, such as Canada, minority governments in Israel are rare and largely undesirable. Therefore, Netanyahu will most likely not seek to form a minority government as that would look like a defeat for him.
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) electoral alliance, addresses supporters at their headquarters in the coastal city of Tel Aviv early on March 3, 2020, after polls officially closed. (Getty)

In any case, Netanyahu now has 28 days to form a coalition government and has already started seeking defectors to join his cause. One of the reasons why it is difficult to convince defectors to join your coalition is due to the reduced rights parliamentary defectors receive, for instance, defectors are barred from being appointed as ministers or deputy ministers, and they are also not allowed to run in the next election with a party represented in the current Knesset. Nevertheless, a recent article published in the Jerusalem Post indicated that there is a list of potential defectors that Netanyahu can consider recruiting. The article stated that there were two Blue and White MKs that could defect to the coalition, namely Omer Yankelevich and Orly Fruman. According to the article, both MKs have right-leaning views, and Yankelevich, in particular, has been under fire within the Blue and White for allegedly secretly disparaging Benny Gantz. Orly Fruman has previously served in the 2009 Likud government and has recently angered many of her current Blue and White compatriots after suggesting that Gantz go into talks with Netanyahu and perhaps form a government with him. While both won’t be allowed to hold ministries, Netanyahu could reward their defection by giving them chairmanship of government committees. Another potential candidate is the head of the Gesher Party, Orly Levy-Abecassis, and she has an advantage over the other two choices since she’s a member of an independent party and other Israeli law defectors from independent parties don’t face the same sanctions as defectors from establishment parties, meaning she could be rewarded with a ministry for her defection. In the run-up to the elections, Benny Gantz said that he would never join a coalition government headed by Netanyahu, constantly citing the corruption cases put against his opponent. He seemed adamant on that soon after the election as well stating that he would do everything legally possible to replace the current government.
Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh speaks during a program in Israel's northern city of Shefa-Amr on March 2, 2020, after polls officially closed in Israeli general elections. (Getty)


If there’s one faction that can be happy with the election results, it is the Joint List, which is a political alliance made up of the Arab-Israeli parties. Arab parties have traditionally performed badly in Israeli elections, but the unusually high voter turnout from the Arab community (the highest since the 1999 elections), gave the Joint List 15 seats in the Knesset. Although that might not seem like much, that is a good result by Joint List standards. Just to put into context in the April 2019 election, the Joint List only managed 11 seats and in the next election it mustered 13 seats, so this gradual increase is a massive victory for the faction. In the run-up to the election, there was talk of Gantz asking the Joint List to join his coalition and oust the Netanyahu government, but he constantly denied any plans of doing so fearing that it would cost him favourability among right-wing voters. In theory, if the Joint List did join the Blue and White, then the number of anti-Netanyahu MKs would increase to 61 giving them a blocking majority in the Knesset. However, even if Gantz were to go back on his word, the Joint List is unlikely to join a coalition with him now.
Another Israeli election has come and gone, yet the political deadlock lingers on. While Netanyahu has an advantage over Gantz he still faces a massive challenge of persuading defectors to join his side. If he cannot accomplish this, then a fourth successive election might be a possibility.
font change