Highly appropriate for the time of year, “a plague on all your houses” appears to be the message from voters to Israel’s politicians, as the fourth election in two years ends in yet another stalemate. Arguably Israel's strongest leader since King David, Benjamin Netanyahu now faces the nightmare scenario of having no pathway to a majority without an astonishing volte-face from at least one political leader who has been calling on him to go. Even if the combined forces of Likud, United Torah Judaism and Shas can draw in support from Yamina and the highly controversial Religious Zionists, they are likely to fall short of a majority. Yair Lapid, the leader of the second-largest party Yesh Atid, has been quoted as saying that he will “do everything to create a sane government”, branding the Religious Zionists as “racists and homophobes”.
If the election comes down to pro-Bibi versus anti-Bibi, then it is difficult to see how Netanyahu can survive. Arguably the most powerful Israeli leader since King David, Bibi finds himself faced with former colleagues such as Gideon Sa’ar, leader of New Hope, who have left the Pharoah’s court and are committed to removing him from power. Although Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, has not ruled out working with Netanyahu, he has been vociferous in saying it is time to “fire the CEO”.
It is difficult to see how a fifth election would solve the problem. It seems obvious that voters are not ready to give any bloc a clear majority and that the solution must lie in parties and politicians finding ways of working together. So what collaborations are possible? With Likud by far the largest party, it is difficult to see how a Prime Minister from anywhere else could command a majority in the Knesset.
There is now a very powerful religious bloc, with Shas, UTJ and Religious Zionists having more than 20 seats between them. Rabbi Gerson Edelstein of UTJ has ruled out supporting a left-wing government, and both haredi parties have pledged only to support a coalition which will overturn the recent High Court ruling which recognises non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel.
The Resurrection of election night is the political career of Benny Gantz, leader of Kachol Lavan (Blue & White). Pre-election polls showed Blue & White in danger of failing to cross the 3.25% threshold, with Gantz himself warning of the possible consequences should he not be returned. With around 90% of votes counted, Blue & White find themselves in fourth place and with a leader who will become Prime Minister in November unless the Rotation Agreement is overturned.
With turnout down among Arab voters, Joint List is set to see its number of MKs fall but its erstwhile partner of Ra’am may just finish above the threshold, with its leader Mansour Abbas having repeated his willingness to work with Netanyahu in a coalition. Ra’am is an Islamist party which had become frustrated with the Joint List’s perceived lack of concern for religious views on social matters. Another source of concern for Arab voters, which Ra’am seeks to offer an alternative to, is the refusal of Joint List to be part of the political mainstream: a place for an Arab party in a coalition can only be to the benefit of Arab communities. On many social issues, Ra'am is likely to be in agreement with UTJ and Shas, although any cooperation with the Religious Zionists would seem very unlikely due to RZ's approach to the disputed territories.