Israel’s Endless Election Cycle

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Like an Israeli reboot of the classic comedy film “Groundhog Day,” three elections in the Jewish State have led to the same conclusion – or rather, the same lack of a conclusion. There is still no government.

Reports after last Monday’s voting suggested a clear win for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his center-right Likud Party. But ultimately, while Likud came tantalizingly close to the 61-seat majority in the Knesset it needs to form a government, it ended up with just 58 seats. That is hardly the “huge victory” that Netanyahu declared after balloting was concluded.

The closest rival to Netanyahu and Likud, the center/left Blue and White Party of former IDF leader Benny Gantz, remains stuck in a close second place.  The rival party heads, Bibi and Benny, have almost identical views on major issues like security and the peace proposal put forward by President Donald Trump. But they have not been able to agree on a new majority, possibly because of resentments generated during the series of elections. 

Meanwhile, Avigdor Lieberman and his nationalist majority Russian Yisrael Beitenu Party won’t join a coalition that includes Haredi parties like Shas.

For his part, Netanyahu is defiant, insisting on Saturday that he is “not going anywhere” despite his difficulty in putting together a workable coalition. And he accused his opponents of plotting to “steal the elections” with their efforts to deny him a new term in the prime minister’s office.

A possible off-ramp from the seemingly endless circle of deadlocks was described last week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.  The paper reports that for the first time, Moshe Ya’alon, the number three leader with the Blue and White party, appears to be seeking to form a minority government that would include leftist parties like Labor-Meretz and the Joint Arab List, which won 15 seats in the latest balloting.

Up until now, a government that would include the far left and the Arab List has been rejected out of hand by both Likud and Blue and White. But election-weary Israelis who are not looking forward to a fourth election might be willing to see a workable minority government cobbled together.

Such a move also could be more palatable now, when Netanyahu is vulnerable as he faces trial later this month on three serious corruption counts. No rule says a new government must include the long-time prime minister. Still, potential coalition partners may want to delay committing themselves until after the trial is over, to avoid yet another period where the leadership of the Jewish State is up in the air.

And the situation became muddier with a possible move by Gantz’s party to put forward legislation that would bar anyone who is indicted of a crime from heading the government. Netanyahu, understandably opposed to such a move, called it “a personal, retroactive law that goes against the most basic principles of democracy” and vowed to block it.

In any case, no one could blame Israeli voters for feeling a strong sense of ballot fatigue. While no clear resolution to the prolonged standoff is in sight, a fresh cast of characters might be a better alternative to repeating the series of stalemates that deprive Israel of the strong government it needs to face its many challenges.