[Updated to reflect the final vote tallies and that The New Right slipped below the threshold]
Israel has voted and it seems pretty clear that Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in his aim of becoming the country’s longest serving Prime Minister. After a fractious campaign against the new Blue and White Party led by former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Netanyahu is in the best place to form a ruling coalition.
As ever in Israel, no single party has enough seats to form a government on its own. The national list system, combined with a 3.25% threshold, means that there are going to be either 11 or 12 parties in the 120 seat Knesset. And with religious parties and parties on the right being able to muster around 67 of those seats, Netanyahu is in a much stronger position than Gantz.
As things stand, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party holds 36 seats. Their potential coalition partners line up as follows:
Shas 8; UTJ 7; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Kulanu 4; URP 5;
Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party holds 35 seats, and the rest of the opposition is:
Labor 6; Meretz 4; Hadash-Ta’al 6; Ra’am-Balad 4.
After voting was over and all ballots have been counted, there was still some uncertainty. The New Right, a party formed by former Minister Neftali Bennet, was briefly listed as securing 3.26% of the vote. But the Central Election Committee reviewed some of the ballots cast by soldiers and others using an absentee ‘double envelope’ system. As a result, TNR slipped below the threshold and lost their four seats. This didn’t change the overall outcome of the election that much, but still constitutes a massive failure for Bennet who helped to bring down the previous government when he walked out of Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Formally, the parties have two weeks of horse-trading before the President calls them in to see who can form a government. He does not have to call on a party leader to be the new Prime Minister, but it seems all but certain that Netanyahu will be receiving the call.
The campaign itself was dominated by unprecedented interventions from abroad with Netanyahu getting the explicit backing of Donald Trump (who announced his support for formally recognising the Golan Heights as part of Israeli territory) and implicit support from Russian, Brazillian and Indian leaders. Netanyahu pulled his traditional last minute rabbit out of the hat by suggesting that he will look to annexe much of the West Bank into Israel. Whether he follows through on this pledge is still in the air.
The other key issue is an investigation by the Attorney General into Netanyahu over ossies of corruption. The indictment has been published and looks strong but will the Prime Minister excape being charged by adopting some form of immunity – the so-called ‘French law’? Will he then seek to become President and avoid the courts for a further 10 years? What will that do for confidence in the Israeli political and judicial system? All these are questions that will dominate Israeli politics for some time to come.