Israel goes to the Polls on 9 April

Elections to the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) will take place on 9th April. this briefing is a short note on the upcoming elections, featuring the runners and riders, the key electoral issues and what the current polls are saying.

Why has Mr Netanyahu called elections?
As Liberal Democrats would like in the UK, the Israeli political system runs on a proportional representation party voting list system. There are 120 seats in the Knesset thus the leading party needs is a coalition of 61 seats to govern. Therefore the stability of the governing coalition is crucial for effective governance.

Following Yisrael Beiteiuni’s (the right-wing party favoured by most Russian-speaking Israelis), decision to leave the Likud-led coalition after strongly disagreeing with Netanyahu’s policy over Gaza, the coalition has been in a precarious position of power. In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu has found it extremely difficult to persuade his coalition partners from the Ultra-Orthodox parties to agree to his new conscription law for Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

There were due to elections held no later than November 2019, due to the end of this current government’s term, however it is widely believed the main reason for the timing of the election was Netanyahu’s desire to hold elections before he might possibly be indicted by the Attorney-General for corruption (bribery, fraud and breach of trust).

Runners and Riders – Main Political Parties
The most dominant party is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The Likud, a right-wing party, places a strong emphasis on security, and constantly refers to its previous record. The Party is economically conservative, but its main message is consistently on security and defence. In terms of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said he supported it in 2009, but has demonstrated ambivalence to the issue in recent years.

The Jewish Home party has been a consistent player in the Likud-led coalition. It represents religious Zionists and territorial nationalists. The Jewish Home stands passionately against a Palestinian State, and supports the building of settlements in the West Bank. However leader Naftali Bennett and his effective deputy Ayelet Shaked left the party to form the more secular New Right party. Bennett, the Education Minister, and Minister for Diaspora Affairs, and the Shaked, the Justice Minister, have formed the New Right to try and sway more secular, middle class voters, however they are still opposed to a two-state solution and advocate settlement building.

It is expected that Moshe Kahlon, the Finance Minister, and his Kulanu party will still support the Prime Minister, in a Likud-led coalition.

Leading the way for the opposition parties is the brand new Hosen LeYisrael (Israel Resilience Party), led by former IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz. The Israel Resilience party is a relative unknown as there have only been a few public statements by Gantz so far. They are seen as a broadly centrist political party. Gantz has stated that certain settlements should remain part of the State of Israel. Most of his supporter base seems to have come from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid centrist party, and by Avi Gabbay’s Labour Party. Both Yesh Atid and Labour support an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and a two-state solution.

In addition to the centrist and left wing parties, there is the Joint Arab List. It consists of four different Arab parties. They include communists, Palestinian nationalists, religious muslims and feminists. They support a two-state solution and won 13 seats in the 2015 election. It has been reported however that the four Arab parties may be preparing to disband their association and run separately in the election. There are talks between Hadash, Ra’am, Balad and Ta’al which will be critical. Separate runs would exacerbate the risk the parties, each on its own, won’t pass the 3.25 threshold seats in the next Knesset. But the parties have been riven by mutual distrust, and amid mutual accusations, are bracing to contend divided.

What the polls are telling us?
It is believed that the 2019 Israeli elections will be decided by personalities rather than policies. Despite the view of some, Netanyahu is still popular in Israel, the country is seen as secure, and prospering economically. Netanyahu has also been seen to strengthen Israel’s image abroad, constantly referring to seemingly unbreakable relationship with Donald Trump, and the United States, as well as re-establishing diplomatic ties with Muslim countries such as Oman and Chad.

Netanyahu’s supporters believe the corruption allegations are false, and believe the left-wing media are exaggerating them in an attempt to oust him. Benny Gantz is seen as Netanyahu’s greatest challenger as Prime Minister. In popularity polls, he only just trails Netanyahu. He is the closest to the Prime Minister than anyone has ever been since he took office in 2009. This has resulted in the right-wing media constantly trying to portray Gantz as a ‘leftist’ and a threat to Israel’s security. For Gantz to win, it is believed he needs to take some of the centrist Likud voting electorate, however at the moment it is expected his votes will come at the expense of Yesh Atid and Labour, both centrist and left wing parties respectively.

As it stands polling suggests that if for instance the Gantz and the Israel Resilience Party merge with Lapid’s Yesh Atid party they would achieve more votes than Likud. However Netanyahu could still form a right-wing coalition with other like-minded parties. As of 4th February polling from BICOM (Britain Israel Research and Communications Centre), suggests that Likud will emerge as the largest party with 30 seats and therefore Netanyahu, with fellow right-wing partners such as the Jewish Home and The New Right, will be able to form a narrow government.

For more information, BICOM has a regular poll of polls and up-dated analysis

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