Israel just held its fourth election in two years. The future of the country’s political sphere is up in the air between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance of 52 seats and the left-wing coalition, which won 57 seats in the recent election. Both fell short of the 61-seat coalition majority required in Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset. Does Israel’s political deadlock reveal a sharper divide within its society’s walls? Will their political leaders resolve this immobilism, and what can other countries learn from it?
Why do they need a majority?
A myriad of political parties comprises Israel’s government (which utilizes a national proportional representation system), compared to two major factions in the United States. In the most recent election, a whopping thirteen political parties divided 120 seats in the Knesset. The number of parties combined with the immense political and religious diversity that exists within the elected parties (ranging from hyper-nationalistic and religious parties to the secularist, progressive bloc) has made it virtually impossible for the parties to form a majority coalition. The lack of a majority coalition has crippled the Israeli government’s ability to address the people’s concerns and has prevented Knesset from enacting any meaningful legislation.
What is to blame?
What factors influenced Israel politics to this current point? Much of the opposition comes from corruption charges brought against Netanyahu — indicted in three separate cases involving bribery, fraud, and breach of trust — including one which accuses him of taking expensive champagne and cigars from wealthy businessmen in exchange for favors. These charges have bolstered the anti-Netanyahu parties and led to the formation of a new center-right party: New Hope. Gideon Sa’ar, who previously sought to dethrone Netanyahu from his position as leader of the Likud party, leads this party; a party that siphoned off six seats that likely would have been taken by a pro-Netanyahu faction.
In addition, the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict continues to divide the country, highlighted by the Ra’am party’s rise (a conservative Palestinian party) in the last election. Right-wing Zionists, embraced by Netanyahu’s coalition, polarize Arab parties, leaving little chance for an alliance between such groups. Political analysts say that if Netanyahu scrapes together a coalition majority, his will be the most conservative in Israel’s history.
Where will the country go from here?
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, is responsible for choosing the candidate that he believes can forge the unconventional alliances that will finally break the country’s political stalemate. By all means, the country hopes to avoid a fifth election, although, at this point, there is no clear path out of the woods.
How has Israel been operating under gridlock?
The political deadlock has left the country without a national budget for the last two years, even in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. Ministries are unable to make long-term schedules, only planning for a month at a time. The unavoidable shortsightedness has put large infrastructure projects — such as highways or railway tracks — on hold for the foreseeable future. It will become exceedingly dangerous for the country if it continues in the long term. The gridlock is grinding Israel’s progress to a halt. In this increasingly globalizing world, every country places a part, as the COVID-19 pandemic certainly proved.