Why Israel may Face its Third Election in One Year

Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to bring the centrist Blue and White party into a joint government with his own Likud party has come to nothing. His rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, has now been given the chance to form a new government by the president. This marks the first time that someone other than Netanyahu has been asked to form a government since 2008.

Gantz has until about the end of November to make it work. If he doesn’t, another national election will more than likely be called, which would be the third one in a single year – something unprecedented in Israel’s history.

Such a scenario looks increasingly likely. Israel has many parties with differing interests – and drawing them together will probably hinge more on exhaustion with the political progress than a genuine desire for cooperation.

Gantz’s Gambit

Gantz has said he wants a “national reconciliation” government for the country, where the population is tired of unending political disputes. Unfortunately, the various factions he has to convince to secure such an alliance – secularists, centrists, right-wing Orthodox and Arab factions – are in many cases opposed to being reconciled.

Three possible coalitions have been put forward. Gantz could seek to ally his Blue-and-White Alliance with the Yisrael Beiteinu and Arabic parties to establish the needed 61-seat government. He could, alternatively, form a minority government with the right-wing Orthodox and Arab factions. Finally, he can seek to form a government with Likud – Netanyahu’s party.

None of these seem very likely. Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List – a group of Arab-interest parties – are hostile to one another. The second option, where Gantz achieves a minority government, would be difficult, and only results in a very fragile government. And while Likud would allow Gantz to form a majority government, he has said in the past he would only do so without Netanyahu – who is currently under investigation for three criminal charges, including bribery. As of Monday, there have been some reports that Gantz is reconsidering this position.

Gantz’s lack of political experience and his career in the military also do not recommend him as a peacemaker. As the head of Israel’s military between 2011 and 2015, he is partly responsible for the illegal operations against Palestinians under occupation in Gaza. And while his current political influence developed by positioning himself against widespread corruption: his skill has a diplomat is unproven.

Together, these factors suggest another election will be called by the end of November. But recent polls suggest there is no reason to suspect that will resolve the deadlock, as voters stay loyal to their previous choices. However, frustrated with his inability to create a consensus, the Blue and White party may lose support.

The Future of the Country (and its conflict)

In the meantime, Gantz will continue to seek coalition partners. Over the weekend Gantz met with Netanyahu to try and form a coalition with Likud, but these meetings ended without a conclusive plan. The alliance, if it can be formed, would always be strained: Gantz promised to keep ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremist parties out of government, while they were a significant part of Netanyahu’s movement.

The disruption to politics – and the desperation to move beyond this gridlock may present a window for the various Arab parties – who represent the 21% Arab population of Israel. A potential government could include the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties, as part of a centrist coalition – while excluding the Arab nationalist Balad, which has historically argued against the existence of Israel.

The slow process of determining Israel’s political future may affect ongoing global relationships. For example, it will halt progress on the proposed “Middle East peace plan” put forward by the US and Trump’s senior advisor, Jared Kushner. The plan attracted intense scrutiny and controversy this year, even before being published, and was rejected by Palestinian political factions as overwhelmingly favouring Israeli interests.

There is an option if Gantz fails, besides calling another election. The president can hand the task back to Parliament, at which point, lawmakers have 21 days to select a new candidate to seek a majority. Exhausted by the gridlock and the desire to avoid a third election: there may be support enough to bring Netanyahu back for a fifth term in office.