New elections in israel again: majorities are completely unclear

Budget negotiations fail and the Knesset dissolves. On March 23, Israel elects a new parliament for the fourth time in two years.

Masks show Prime Minister Netanyahu and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz Photo: Oded Balilty/ap

As the clock struck midnight in Israel, it was official: the deadline to pass the 2020 budget expired, the Knesset automatically dissolves as a result, and Israel will go to the polls for a fourth time in two years on March 23, 2021.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud, and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz of Blue-White blamed each other for the new elections.

In a televised address Tuesday night, with hours to go before the deadline, Netanyahu said he did not want the elections, but that his party would "win a big victory."

Blue-White responded by saying, "If there were no court case, there would be a state budget and no elections." The party is thus referring to the fact that, in its eyes, Head of State Netanyahu is making numerous maneuvers to escape a court case; most recently, there had been disputes in the governing coalition over the state budget because of this.

Extremely difficult coalition arithmetic

While a landslide loss of votes for Blue-White is considered certain, however, a Netanyahu victory is anything but a foregone conclusion. The new anti-Netanyahu front from the right, led by Gideon Sa’ar’s newly formed New Hope party, is likely to cause headaches for Netanyahu. More and more Likud deputies are switching sides to Sa’ar.

The predicted distribution of seats currently yields three possible scenarios. A coalition of Netanyahu opponents from the right, consisting of the New Hope parties, Naftali Bennett’s settler party Yamina, Lieberman’s Israel Our House, and the center parties Yesh Atid and Blue-White, would miss a majority of 61 seats by only one seat, according to current poll results. It would be conceivable for the coalition to receive outside support from Meretz or the United List, which consists of a majority of Arab parties.

Netanyahu, who has now alienated numerous potential coalition members, is left with only the ultra-Orthodox parties as natural partners. Should he be able to win back Bennett, whom he excluded from the last government, he is still three seats short of a majority, according to current polling. He would need Sa’ar – but only last week he promised not to enter into an alliance with Netanyahu under any circumstances.

And so it does not seem impossible that the coalition negotiations will once again end in a deadlock – and that Israelis will be asked to go to the polls for a fifth time.

This will probably also depend on things that Israeli politicians can only influence to a limited extent. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has given the Israeli head of government numerous campaign gifts in the past and most recently revived Netanyahu’s popularity with the normalization agreements with several Arab countries, will leave the White House in January. Whether his successor, Joe Biden, will interfere in the Israeli election campaign as Trump has done is questionable.

The further course of the Corona crisis will probably also have a decisive influence on Netanyahu’s ranking on the popularity scale. The Corona inoculations could play into Netanyahu’s hands. Not least, Netanyahu’s failure in the Corona crisis had led to a severe loss of public confidence.

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