Netanyahu Struggles to Form a Government
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inability to form a coalition government after an election on September 17 calls into question his chances of serving another term, especially with the rising support for rival parties.
In Israel’s parliamentary democracy, voters vote not for a specific candidate but rather for a party. In the event that no party wins an absolute majority, the president, currently Reuven Rivlin, can freely appoint a lawmaker to form a government. A coalition government requires an alliance of parties with 61 or more of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
The April 9 election broke from the longstanding tradition of Israeli politics. Al Jazeera reports that the election, which gave a slight lead to Netanyahu’s Likud Party, gave him the mandate to form a coalition government but that he was unable to do so, resulting in another general election on September 17.
Reuters reports that the September election put the Blue and White Party, headed by Benny Gantz, slightly ahead of the Likud Party. Though the two parties won the most votes, neither received enough seats to guarantee an outright majority, with the Blue and White securing 33 seats to Likud’s 31.
The Associated Press reports that, once again, Rivlin decided to grant Netanyahu the mandate to form a government after reported talks between Netanyahu and Gantz fell apart. Without a coalition between the Likud and Blue and White parties, the likelihood of Netanyahu securing a majority remains small.
Reuters reports that one way forward would be the formation of a national unity government composed of the Likud and Blue and White parties. According to BBC, Rivlin has initiated talks between Netanyahu and Gantz. The two party leaders issued a joint statement agreeing to negotiate on a unity government, though the composition of such a government remains unclear, given Gantz’s previous refusal to form a government with Netanyahu amid his possible indictment for corruption.
Though the election has yet to be fully resolved, its potential impact is huge. The future of Netanyahu’s tenure is at stake, and, if he loses his premiership, he could face charges on three counts of corruption, according to the New York Times. Netanyahu and his allies’ conservative platform, which previously saw him win an election comfortably, did not strike the Israeli electorate this year with the same strength. BBC reported significant numbers of Arab voters turning out and a general shift of votes towards Gantz’s centrist party; they also reported that the Joint List, a bloc of Arab parties in Israel, endorsed Gantz for the premiership. This election marks the first time an Israeli Arab political group has endorsed anyone for prime minister.
Israel’s former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman leads the Yisrael Beitenu party, which Reuters reports won eight seats this election, making Lieberman a potential kingmaker and his party a spoiler in coalition negotiations. Reuters reports that Lieberman stated he desires a unity government of his party, Likud, and Blue and White - and not the ultra-Orthodox parties that have traditionally supported Netanyahu’s recent governing coalitions.