Israel Election puzzle

A picture of the current status of the 2019 Israeli elections - as the writer sees it.

Frank Mecklenburg, | updated: 13:30

OpEds Mecklenberg

I want to paint a picture as I see the current status of Israel elections in 2019. 

The current situation 

After the election in April of 2019, President of Israel, Reuven Rivilin, assigned Benjamin Netanyahu, the incumbent Prime Minister, the mandate to build a coalition with other smaller parties that would result in the required number of seats in the Knesset (Israel Parliament) to form a government.

Although he had been close to having the number needed after the first election, he failed due partly to the failure of Naftali Bennett’s New Right Party to get enough votes to be in the government and partly because Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beyteinu Party refused to be in a coalition with right wing religious parties. In the past he had served in the Netanyahu government as Foreign Minister and as Defense Minister.  

After resigning from the previous government over a disagreement with Netanyahu, he does not want to work with Netanyahu. As a result of a stalemate, Netanyahu asked the Knesset to vote for a repeat of the elections and to dissolve the elected members of the Knesset. The vote was successful and a second election was held September 17th. Unfortunately, Netanyahu did not fare as well. Here is a chart of the results of the second election.  

A total of ten political parties received enough votes to cross the threshold allowing them to be in the Knesset. Let me define these. T

The Blue and White Party with the highest number of seats, 33, in the Knesset is led by Benny Gantz, a retired military commander, who decided to challenge Netanyahu. He is labeled as a liberal and he is neither religious or right wing. 

Netanyahu’s Likud Political Party came in second with 32 seats (one more than indicated in the chart above in the final tally). The other qualifying parties that have lined themselves with the Likud party are Shas (conservative sephardic religious) 9 seats, UTJ (United Torah Judaism) Ashkenazi Orthodox 8 seats, and Yamina (mostly religious Zionist and right wing) 7 seats for a total of 55 which is 6 seats short of 61 needed to form a government. The Otzma Yehudit party insisted on voting as a separate party and came close, but not close enough, to pass the electoral threshhold, losing close to three Knesset seats for the right wing bloc.

Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party with 33 seats has the following smaller parties that might join with him in a coalition. The Joint Arab List Party would add 10 of their 13 seats to Blue and White. Some of you may not be aware of the fact that 20% of the population in Israel is Arab and so they have their own party and vote resulting in 13 seats in the Knesset. These are not called Palestinian Arabs, but are Arabs who did not flee in 1948 during the War of Independence and so did not give up their homes or property. They are full citizens of Israel, not Zionist.Some claim that they would join a coalition made up of Jewish parties or back it from outside the coalition, but others say they would never be a part of Jewish coalition. And non of the Zionist parties have ever had them join a coalition. Also, the Labor-Gesher with 6 seats and the Democratic Camp with 5 seats would join with Blue and White for a potential total of 54 seats which is 7 seats short of the number required to form a government.

Even though the election results were worse for Netanyahu, he is the first to have a chance to form a coalition with sufficient numbers to form a government because he has a potential of 55 seats which is one more than Blue and White’s 54. Netanyahu only has a short time left to form a government. If he fails to do so then President Reuven Rivilin will probably give Benny Gantz chance to form a government. 

Possible solutions

It still seems like a stalemate with no one able to form a government. So what are the possible solutions? First, if Avigdor Liberman of the Yisrael Byteinu Party with their 8 seats joins Netanyahu, he could form a government. The same is true if he should decide to join with Benny Gantz.

Liberman is the so called ‘King Maker’. He is refusing to join Netayahu’s coalition even though he has in the past. This is because he has certain demands including that full time yeshiva students, most of them haredi young men, who have been exempt up to now, would have to spend time in the army. immediately, not as a gradual process.  Liberman will not join with Gantz either because he does not want the Arabs to be part of a coalition or rely on their backing as that will alienate his mostly right wing Russian voters.. 


The President and Liberman are suggesting a unity government made up of mainly Likud and Blue & White without the Arabs and without the religious. Gantz and Netanyahu would share the position of Prime Minister with each having two-year terms. But to complicate things even more, Gantz refuses to join with Likud as long as Netanyahu is the leader of Likud. This is because of his dislike for Netanyahu and because Netanyahu is under indictment and possibly facing a court case after his current hearing. Another reason the unity government will not work is because Netanyahu refuses to form a unity government without his bloc of right wing, conservative partners. 

If for some reason Gatz and Netanyahu agree on a unity government they would have a total of 65 seats without any of the other smaller parties. However, this does not seem likely. If Liberman should decide to join with either side, that side would have enough seats to form a government.

No one knows what is likely to happen. If nothing happens, then there may not be any choice but to call for a third election which is not popular. It is hard to see that another election would bring any better results. Meantime the new Knesset has been sworn in and can make some decisions and Netanyahu and his incumbent cabinet remain in power. 

There is pressure to not have a third election, but who will budge? Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is asking Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to join a unity government and not to force Israel into "an election disaster." His reasoning to Gantz is that because of the dedication of his life and serving in the military for several years for the security of the State, he should act to avoid a third election and a vacuum of leadership. He said, “I call on you, in the name of responsibility for the Jewish People, to remove any political considerations.”

Hopefully there is hope. Keep in tune and pray that Israel will have a government and Prime Minister.