Third Time’s a Charm? Israel Heads to the Polls—Again

January 14, 2020
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The stroke of midnight on December 11 sealed a fate that Israelis had dreaded. With every avenue for a majority government—and the prime minister to lead it—exhausted, the short-lived 22nd Knesset (Parliament) officially dissolved, sending Israel to the polls for the third consecutive round of national elections in one year, a first in the modern state’s history. The election date is set for March 2, 2020.

Why did the first two elections leave Israel without a government and leaderless? Citizens vote for a party rather than an individual candidate. Parties that receive 3.25% or more of the vote are given seats in the Knesset. The Knesset comprises 120 seats, meaning the ruling party must hold a majority of 61 seats. Because no single party ever achieves this, parties join forces to form a coalition of at least 61 seats.

Once the votes are counted, the president selects a Knesset member to serve as prime minister. This person will then have 28 days to make a coalition and form a majority government.

In the April 2019 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party achieved a 36–35 victory over its major competitor, former IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. President Reuven Rivlin nominated Netanyahu to form a majority coalition. The task seemed a mere formality. Yet Netanyahu couldn’t secure the support he needed, sending Israel back to the polls for a second time.

In the September 2019 elections, Blue and White scored a 33–32 majority over Likud. Yet in a tragic repeat of the April 2019 elections, first Netanyahu and then Gantz failed to scrape together the required 61 seats. Israelis held out hope that the two rivals would join forces to form a unity government, but each fruitless round of negotiations brought Israel one step closer to the daunting prospect of a third election.

As Israel heads to the polls—again, the question is: can a third round sway the vote and break the political deadlock? Only time will tell.

Mission Impossible

“For me the only question is who has the best possibility to form a coalition.”
—President Rivlin explains his decision to task Netanyahu over Gantz with the responsibility to form a government following the September 2019 elections

“I accept the task you gave me, with the knowledge that I don’t have a better chance at forming a government, but rather, let’s say my inability to do so is a little smaller than that of MK [member of Knesset] Gantz.”
—PM Netanyahu admits that the responsibility of forming a coalition following the September 2019 elections is a “mission impossible”

“In the past 28 days no stone was left unturned while we tried to form a government that would bring Israel a leadership of dignity, morals and values, a leadership that has been forgotten.”
—Blue and White party leader Gantz concedes that he too was unable to form a 61-seat coalition

“Israel is caught in a cul-de-sac. There just seems to be no workable coalition among the parties as they were elected.”
—Daniel B. Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel and research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies tells the Washington Post

No to a Unity Government

“Those who had to form a government are the two largest parties, which combined have 65 seats. I said from the very first moment of the last election campaign that we will only join a unity government…”
—Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman

Benny, we must establish a broad unity government today…The people expect us…to show responsibility and work for cooperation. Let’s meet today, any hour, any time, to set in motion this move required by the hour. The hour requires a broad unity government.”
—PM Netanyahu appeals to Gantz to hash out their differences and lead the country together

“We will not sit in a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu…”
—Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon

They’re [Blue and White] not moving one millimeter…We made all kinds of proposals, with all kinds of ways to make sure that this unity government will be stable, but they are simply refusing…We don’t need entirely unnecessary elections. But if we’re forced into third elections, we will win them.”
—PM Netanyahu bemoans Blue and White’s refusal to form a unity government

The Blame Game

“No one is taking responsibility, unsurprisingly. Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. The Likud says it’s because of Blue and White, Blue and White says it’s because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says he has ‘zero percent’ of a role in all this, it’s all the two big parties.”
—Lahav Harkov for the Jerusalem Post  

Blue and White “wants to hide the fact that they did everything to avoid establishing a broad national unity government…They forced new elections on us. It is unnecessary and in order to avoid it happening again there is one thing to do and that is to win, and win big—and that is what we’ll do.”
—PM Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Israel’s third national elections

“Every soccer player, even the best, needs to know when to hang up his shoes.”
—Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman believes the time has come for Netanyahu to bid politics farewell 

“My heart aches today and I think that is true of all Knesset members. It’s a hard day for the Israeli public, each side thinks the other is to blame…”
—Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn

Looking Ahead

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.”
—Daniel 2:20–21a

“I hope that this is the last election campaign for the next four years, and that we will be able to grow as a people and a society from the division and disagreement that separate us to agreement and action that benefits us all. We must not lose faith in the democratic system or in its ability to create the reality we live in… When the time comes, we will all exercise our democratic right and do it in the hope of a better future.”
—President Rivlin inspires his countrymen and women to continue in hope

Photo Credit: Inna Reznik/shutterstock.com

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