2021 Israeli Legislative Election: Pt 1, How We Got Here
So. It’s March 1st. We are now three weeks away from Israel’s fourth election in two years. And, honestly, if not for COVID, we’d probably be on the fifth election by now.
I was originally going to do a quick run-down of how we got here and then go into the details of this year’s election, but the run-down, it turns out, is not quite so quick. Here’s the “how we got here,” and some time later this week I’ll talk more directly about where we are now.
Israel has a 120-seat parliament, called the Knesset. Thus, in order to form a government, you need at least 61 Knesset members to agree on the makeup of that government. Ideally, those 61 members would all come from the same political party, but practically that never happens in Israel. So instead, multiple parties will form coalition governments, where each party makes some compromises, and each party gets some perks, so that one individual can have the support of 61+ Knesset members to be Prime Minister.
As of late-2018, there was a stable, but thin, right-wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. But a long-standing dispute between some right-wing religious parties and a right-wing secular party came to a head, and the right-wing secular party left the government.
Effectively, from this point, you had five blocs of political parties, where nobody was willing to work with anyone who was more than one degree separated from them: the religious-right were willing to work with the mainstream-right, but not the secular-right. The secular-right was willing to work with the mainstream-left, but not the far-left. And the mainstream-left and mainstream-right were not willing to work with each other. And with this configuration, it became literally impossible for anyone to find 60 people who were willing to work with them.
For two elections and a bit over a year, this was the status quo. Netanyahu didn’t have the support of a government, but nobody else did either, so nobody could unseat him.
And then, right on top of the third election, it happened. COVID-19. Global pandemic.
The world was just learning how devastating this virus was going to become as Israel was undergoing the negotiations process to select the next government after the March 2020 elections. And Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party which had acted as chief rival to Netanyahu’s Likud for all three elections spanning 2019–2020, came to the personal decision that the formation of a government, any government, was of paramount importance during this crisis. That having the political infrastructure in place to properly deal with COVID-19 was more important than any ideological or moral question.
So, after campaigning for a year and a half on the idea that Netanyahu could not continue to serve as Prime Minister, Benny Gantz split his own party in two, in order to bring just enough Knesset members with him in order to join a right-wing alliance that supported Netanyahu. Because any government, in his eyes, was better than no government.
This did not mean the process went smoothly. Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz trusted one another, and so several stipulations were placed into the agreement they made to form a government. One of them was that a budget had to be passed by December 23rd, 2020.
A budget was not passed by December 23rd, 2020. This triggered the dissolution of the Knesset, and ensured that elections would be held within 90 days.
So, roughly, that’s where we’re at now. Stay tuned for further analysis as it comes.