The ideological groupings in the Israeli parliament usually pave the way for snap elections, pushing the country in political limbo.
The Israeli parliament, also known as the Knesset, dissolved itself on Tuesday midnight after the fractured coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed the deadline to approve the 2020 national budget. The country is expected to hold its historic fourth election within a span of two years on March 23, 2021.
Here, we take a closer look at what triggered another early election in Israel.
How did it all start?
The political crisis in Israel began in 2018 as discussions about a new military conscription bill raged in the parliament. The bill proposed that the Ultra-Orthodox Haredi students should be exempted from the obligatory military service.
Then Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who represents a largely secular, Russian-speaking population of Jews from the ex-Soviet Union, opposed the bill and proposed his own bill instead.
He did not get the popular support, however, and he stunned everyone with resignation in November “in protest at a Gaza truce deal,” which appeared to be just an excuse to dissociate himself from the coalition’s engagement with Ultra-Orthodox religious groups.
The resignation triggered snap elections in April 2019. Another one followed four months later in September, but they also proved futile.
The Israeli voters went to the polls for the third time in March, 2020. This time the Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and his rival Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to form a unity government in May.
The coalition deal was based on a power-sharing agreement in light of the coronavirus crisis. Both leaders agreed to rotate the premiership after 18 months. However, they recently clashed over the partnership because the Likud party agreed to pass just a one-year budget instead of two. The passage of the two-year budget would have set in motion Gantz’s transition to power next year.
Israeli political analysts see the move as a ploy by Netanyahu to hold on to power by exploiting a legal loophole, which enables him to keep his post should the Israeli government be dissolved over a budget impasse.
Understanding Israel's electoral system
At the root of this election drama in Israel lies also the country’s electoral system, which is based on proportional representation seeking to create a representative body that reflects the overall distribution of public support for each political party. It ensures small groups a measure of representation proportional to their electoral support.
The system was the closest election system that would match with the tradition of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine before the foundation of the state of Israel. The political culture of the time aimed to provide broad social representation, making it possible for small Jewish groups to have a voice in their parliamentary gatherings.
After the foundation of the modern state, the system was absorbed into the state in one nation-wide constituency with 120 seats. The votes are converted into seats with a relatively low electoral threshold, 3.25 percent, which allows political representation, although in practice it produces parliaments of up to 15 to 20 parties of various sizes.
Thus, the system itself necessitates a multi-party coalition as it is very hard to gain a majority by one political party to form a government. This naturally provides exaggerated political power to small partners in the governmental coalitions. A mere argument, which angers a small party may result in the dissolution of a government easily.
Until now, the Knesset elections have been held 23 times. Since 1977 only one election was held upon completion of the Knesset term. The average term of these 23 governments is around 3 years.
A graphic from the Israel Democracy Institute shows that Israel has been having elections every 2.3 years since 1996.
Another factor that contributes to the dissolution of coalitions is the political configuration of main ideological groupings in the Israeli parliament; ultra-Orthodox Jews, religious Zionists, Arabs and respectively secular immigrants. They themselves pose a conflicting image within the house.
What comes next?
A poll published by Israel’s Channel 12 News hours before the dissolution of the parliament showed that Benjamin Netanyahu gained two more seats compared to last week’s poll, but he is still short of getting the majority mark of 61 to form a coalition.
Gideon Saar, who left the Likud early this month to found his New Hope Party became the second-biggest party. The Centrist Yesh Atid, ‘There is a Future’ in Hebrew, came in third place with 16 seats as right-wing Naftali Bennett followed it with 13 seats. Benny Gantz of Blue and White reached the all-time low with just five seats.
Gantz has lost much of his popularity because of his coalition agreement with Netanyahu, which he said he would not join, brought disappointment at his base. So, another coalition between these two seems unlikely.
Netanyahu for sure hopes to be the first party after elections and gain a majority that could give him a chance to evade prosecution on fraud and bribery charges. But, it looks a far-fetched scenario as well.
The left and centrist parties of the country do not seem to have enough seats right now to form a group to change the political atmosphere. They might join a coalition to throw out Netanyahu from the premiership.
Saar’s New Hope Party has already drained power from Netanyahu’s Likud, and it stands as a main rival to the ruling party. If it tries to approach other former allies of the prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, a possible strong coalition may emerge to replace Netanyahu.