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Israel Election Update

Netanyahu has only 5 days to form a Government prior to the deadline of 29 May set by President Rivlin. Netanyahu is currently negotiating the composition of his coalition. He needs 61 seats to form a majority Government.

The Right Wing Coalition/Bloc is expected to comprise the following parties:

Likud – 35
Shas – 8
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) – 8
Union of Right-Wing Parties – 5
Yisrael Beiteinu – 5
Kulanu – 4

This totals 65 seats. However, Netanyahu is facing a number of challenges from potential coalition partners who are making particular demands and conditions in return for joining his coalition.

At an emergency meeting called by Netanyahu late Thursday night (Israel time) all the potential partners showed except Yisrael Beiteinu. In response, Likud members criticised Yisrael Beiteinu and the option has been put on the table to instead form a minority Government without them, with only 60 MKs.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu is applying pressure to change the existing Haredi Draft Law so that Haredi men will no longer be exempt and will have to serve alongside their fellow Israelis in the IDF. The two Ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ are predictably not happy with this.

A possible solution to resolve the stalemate and bring Yisrael Beiteinu on board is to offer Leiberman the much prized Defence portfolio. Lieberman has expressed interest in serving again as the Defence Minister.

The Ultra-Orthodox parties have been vocal in their concern about the observance of Shabbat  – an issue which was  heightened during Eurovision. (You may remember some controversy over rehearsals and performances held on Shabbat). Netanyahu had to reassure UTJ and Shas that the work done on Shabbat during Eurovision was out of his control.

Meanwhile, Kulanu, a party centered around libertarian ideology, is concerned with the potential for increased taxes arising from spending commitments offered in the negotiation process. However, given they only represent four seats, Bibi does not necessarily need them to join the government if all the other parties listed above come on board. Notably, Kulanu initially said they would not sit with an indicted PM but now are actively considering joining Netanyahu in Government.

The proposed legislation to protect the sitting Prime Minister/MKs from legal action is apparently not a major issue for Bibi’s expected coalition partners apart from a few vocal Members of Knesset (including some from his own party).  This issue is a much larger concern for the second largest party elected to the Knesset, Blue and White.

If Netanyahu can’t form a Coalition by the 29th May, President Rivlin has a number of options:

  • He can approach Blue and White to see if they can form a Government.
  • Whilst there have been a number National Unity governments in Israel in the past (after the six day way in ’67-90, ’69-70, ’84-88, 88-90, 2001 ) this seems unlikely to occur unless Likud put forward a new candidate for Prime Minister.
  • The President could ask another Likud MK, not Netanyahu, to see if he or she could form a majority Government. Netanyahu will want to avoid this option at all costs.
  • If none of these options are successful, Rivlin can call for another election, requiring Israelis to go back to the polls. In order for this to happen Netanyahu would need to draft a bill to dissolve the Knesset. Netanyahu is reportedly favouring this option if there isn’t any “significant progress” over the next few days in negotiations

Ariel Zohar is the Media and Advocacy Director for the ZFA.