Last week, the Israeli Knesset approved draft legislation submitted by the governing coalition to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.
The legislation passed by 92 votes out of 120, after which Yair Lapid became caretaker prime minister replacing Naftali Bennett. The latter became Israel’s prime minister a year ago after bringing together a fragile coalition of 61 MPs that replaced the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister from 2009 to 2021.
Parliamentary elections in Israel will be held in early November and will be the fifth round of elections in four years. Previous elections failed to result in a stable governing bloc able to complete a full four-year term.
Some 13 political parties will participate in the November elections divided among the right, left, and centre camps, as well as the Arab bloc composed of the United Arab List, close to the Islamist movement inside Israel and led by Mansour Abbas, and the Joint Arab List that has a nationalist outlook led by Ayman Oudat.
The right-wing camp in Israel includes the Likud Party led by Netanyahu, and the Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism Parties. These hold 52 Knesset seats. The right-wing Yamina Coalition led by Bennett refused to add its seven seats to the right-wing bloc in the Knesset due to disputes with Netanyahu, which was also why Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, refused to join a coalition led by Netanyahu.
The left and centre camp in Israel includes Yesh Atid led by Lapid, Blue and White led by Benny Gantz, the Labour Party, the New Hope Party and Meretz. Altogether, they hold 44 Knesset seats.
The support of at least 61 Knesset MPs is needed to form a government, which Bennett and Lapid succeeded in gathering. However, their coalition included parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum and also needed the support of the United Arab List, the first time an Arab party had supported an Israeli coalition government.
This made it difficult to steer the coalition government and contributed to its collapse.
Several factors dominate the electoral scene in Israel, indicating that the new round of elections will be different from previous ones, even if it does not end the political crisis in the country. Bennett has decided not to run again and to retire from politics after opinion polls showed that his Yamina Coalition would not exceed the political threshold of four seats in parliament, the minimum according to Israeli election law.
Ayelet Shaked will replace Bennett as the leader of Yamina, although she is not as popular as he is, which means the coalition could disintegrate completely. It has been subjected to inflammatory propaganda fanned by Netanyahu and had its credibility undermined among the party’s right-wing popular base in Israel after Bennett agreed to an alliance with the United Arab List, a sensitive issue for the right-wing bloc in Israel.
If Yamina succeeds under Shaked’s leadership to pass the four-seat threshold, this will be a lifeline for Netanyahu who might then return to power and form a stable government supported by Yamina and Shaked. According to recent Israeli polls, this is a likely scenario after the November elections.
However, Netanyahu will also need the support of Blue and White or Yisrael Beiteinu to cement the governing coalition and reach the critical mass of more than 61 seats. This will expose him to pressure from these partners, who distrust him due to their experience in previous coalitions when according to them Netanyahu did not keep his word.
Netanyahu’s dilemma raises several questions inside the Likud and other right-wing parties in Israel. Some right-wing circles blame him for the loss of confidence in the country’s political parties, causing the right-wing bloc to lose control of parliament even though it is the largest political bloc in Israel.
At the same time, the Likud does not have a strong figure to replace Netanyahu and gain the confidence of the other political parties. Several right-wing parties have indicated that they will leave the alliance with Netanyahu if he is unable to form a stable coalition cabinet after the next elections, according to the Israeli Maariv newspaper.
Another key factor in the coming elections is that voting will take place while Lapid is prime minister. He is the first left-wing figure to serve in this position for 13 years, making this an opportunity for him to boost confidence in the left-wing camp before the elections are held.
Some Israeli analyses suggest that this factor will be a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand, it will give Lapid an incentive to portray himself as capable of handling the threats facing Israel, especially issues such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and threats coming from the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah. On the other, Lapid in power will be an incentive for the right-wing bloc to close ranks and stand together in order to regain power.
Lapid has moved quickly to confirm Israel’s rejection of a revived nuclear deal with Iran, the most critical issue on his agenda. He was also firm in his response to Hizbullah’s sending drones to the Karish oil field, which Israel intercepted.
Opinion polls in the Israeli media show that difficulties in forming a stable governing coalition will remain after the November elections, raising concerns that the country’s recent cycle of repeated elections will continue because the political parties are unable to reach agreement.
Israeli observers believe that the political system itself could be at risk if it fails to produce a strong government, especially due to the threats facing Israel from Iran, Hizbullah, and the armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, along with the political repercussions facing it as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.