Israel Election briefing

The dissolving of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) on 29th May, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a governing coalition means that Israel is once again going to the polls for the second time this year. The election will take place on 17th September. Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition amongst his right-wing and ultra-orthodox allies, due to the fall out of conscripting the ultra-orthodox.

Who’s still running? Who’s new?

Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu still hopes to retain the premiership following the election. He recently overtook David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, having been in charge for over 13 years on and off. Netanyahu’s Likud party still remains one of the dominant forces in Israeli politics. He hopes to form a coalition with other right-wing and religious parties, despite the issues last time out.

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s secular Blue and White party are still the largest threat to the Likud following their strong showing in April’s elections.

However, as always with Israel’s proportional representation voting list system, the other smaller parties play a significant part in coalition building. We are still in the early stages of the electoral cycle.

Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party that refused to form a coalition with Netanyahu are likely to increase their vote share due to their stance on the issue of the ultra-Orthodox and military conscription. Lieberman has supported the idea of a National unity government across the political spectrum, with the inclusion of the Blue and White party and the Likud, excluding the religious parties. National unity governments are not uncommon in Israel’s short history, having been formed on several occasions.

However the Blue and White party have consistently stated that they will not sit in a National unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu while he is facing a corruption trial. This leaves the Likud, but especially Netanyahu in quite a precarious electoral position.

The deadline for political parties to merge before the election has passed, creating formal electoral pacts between the smaller parties. Moshe Kahlon, the Finance Minister, and his Kulanu party have decided to support Likud on a joint-electoral ticket. Since the previous election, former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak has returned to frontline politics, forming the Israel Democratic Party. Mr Barak, who served as Israel’s Prime Minister from 1999 to 2001, has already merged his party with the left-wing Meretz party. Two Labour members of the Knesset have also joined with them to form the ‘Democratic Union’. The Labour party, under Amir Peretz has merged with the centrist Gesher party, led by Orly Levy-Abekasis.

On the right-wing, the prominent new leader of the New Right party, Ayelet Shaked has announced a merger with Education Minister Raf Peretz’s Jewish Home party, and the right-wing National Union party. Shaked will lead the party, with Peretz’s name, second on the list. The more extreme Jewish Power party have not yet joined the union.

The four main Arab Parties have once again merged to form the Arab Joint List. The merger won them 13 seats in 2015. They did not unite for the elections in April, and only received 10 seats in the Knesset. The ultra-Orthodox religious parties are still likely to join a right-wing Netanyahu/Likud governing coalition.

What the polls are telling us

Following the release of five seperate polls in Israel this week, our friends at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) have put together a ‘poll of polls’, which currently state that Likud would win 30 seats and the Blue and White, 28. It is predicted that the Arab Joint List will win around 11 seats, with Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party gaining 10 seats. The Democratic Union are predicted to win 9 seats, with their potential coaltion partners in Labour and Gesher winning 6 seats. The right-wing and religious parties are expected to win around 27 seats altogether giving the right-wing block, including the Likud on around 56 seats. The centre and left-wing parties are predicted to receive around 54 seats overall, leaving Yisrael Beitenu, who you may recall have called for a National unity government as the power broker, leaving the knesset at a major impasse.

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