Here We Go Again: Israel’s 5th Election on the Horizon
As the government moves to dissolve the Knesset, sending the country back to the polls, experts believe the result will be political deadlock, again
On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament voted to dissolve itself, in the first of four readings that the bill needs to become law.
The process is expected to conclude on Monday, or perhaps a day or two later, after which the Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become caretaker prime minister until an election is held and a new government is formed.
The expected election which will be the country’s fifth in three and a half years.
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced they would begin the process of dissolving the Knesset. They did so to preempt the opposition, which they expected to bring down the government next week.
Professor Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, told The Media Line the results of the election that will be held at the end of October or the beginning of November are expected to be very similar to those of the last one held in March 2021.
Eyal Lewin, chairman of the Department of Multidisciplinary Studies at Ariel University, explained that the participation rate in Israeli elections is always high and that therefore, the outcome won’t be very different from the last four elections.
Israelis, he told The Media Line, “will go to vote just like the previous times. Israelis vote, they care about the results. And because Israelis are going to vote, and also voted during the last rounds, the chances of any meaningful change are very small.”
The election could produce several possible scenarios.
According to Rynhold, the most likely outcome is that no party will manage to form a coalition with the majority of the parliament, as is needed to form a government.
If that happens, he added, either Lapid will continue as prime minister and there will be another election or former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will force him to step down as its candidate for the premiership.
In that case, a center/right-wing government will be formed, probably led by Likud, and Lapid and his Yesh Atid party will be part of it, explained Rynhold.
However, he believes the chances of his party turning on Netanyahu out are low. “It is by no means certain the Likud would displace Netanyahu; therefore, an election would be possible,” continued Rynhold.
Another scenario would see Netanyahu, the religious parties, and the far-right parties get 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset and form a government. “I think that is the second most likely outcome,” Rynhold said.
Lastly, Lapid might manage to form a government similar to the current one, based on the same coalition.
As for Bennett, Lewin believes his only chance to be re-elected is to leave Yamina and join another party.
He lost his base the moment he formed an alliance with Mansour Abbas, chairman of the Islamist Ra’am party, Lewin said. “So his voters won’t vote for him. His only chance to get voted in is if he joins with somebody else.”
Lewin said that Bennett can’t run like he did the last time, “him, [Interior Minister Ayelet] Shaked and another two or three [candidates in their own party], because they won’t be in the Knesset.”
Rynhold added that even though Bennett is “politically burned” right now, he is not out of the game.
“I think that for the time being, Bennett is ‘burned’ politically. But many people have come back from being burned in Israeli politics, including Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. So just because he’s burned now, it doesn’t mean he’s out,” he continued.
Lapid, on the other hand, heads to the election in a much better situation.
“It’s always an advantage to be on the horse when you’re in the race,” said Lewin, referring to Lapid assuming the caretaker prime minister role until a new government is formed.
“It’s a great advantage because people get used to seeing him as a prime minister, to seeing him as a leader,” he added.
Netanyahu, who is seeking a third stretch as prime minister, evokes conflicting emotions among Israelis.
There is no general Israeli opinion about Netanyahu, said Rynhold. “Israel is divided. The ideological Right, the ultra-Orthodox and Likud loyalists love Netanyahu, and the rest of the country hates him,” he added.
Rynhold explained that Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government depend on the turnout, “particularly the turnout in the Arab sector.” The higher that turnout, the worse it is for Netanyahu, and the better it is for Lapid and the coalition partners in the current government, he explained.
The last possibility, one that Bennett wants to prevent by dissolving the Knesset as quickly as possible, is for a government headed by Netanyahu to be formed without an election.
However, Rynhold believes the chances for that to happen are very low.
To do that, he explained, Netanyahu would need 61 votes for a “constructive no-confidence vote.”
“I don’t see the Arab parties giving him [the votes he needs to reach] 61, and I don’t see anyone in the [current] coalition with enough lawmakers giving him 61 either,” Rynhold said.