Who will join with whom? The Israeli elections conundrum

61 seats are needed to form a government. Here are some ways parties might join together to form one and avoid a fifth election.Op-ed.

Frank Mecklenburg ,

Knesset plenum
Knesset plenum
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

According to an article in Arutz Sheva as of March 16, polls show that the results of the fourth Israel election in two years is that the Likud party (Netanyahu) could have the most seats in the Knesset with a total of 28 seats. March 19th polls, however, have the Likud at 32 seats. The actual results will probably be somewhere in that range.

Second, various polls, including what is termed a final poll on Friday night by Channel 12, claim a range of results: Self-styled centrist (but actually left of center) Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid's party) could have 17-19 seats, followed by Yamina (Bennett) that could have 9-11 seats; next New Hope (Gideon Sa'ar) with 8-10 seats; followed by Joint Arab List that could have 8-9 seats; followed by Shas with 8, United Torah Judaism (UTJ),with 7 and Yisrael Beytenu (Liberman) with 7.

Labor and Religious Zionism (which is running with Otzma Yehudit) could each have 4-6 seats, Meretz, Blue & White (Ganz), and United Arab List each could have 4 seats. There is some question about whether or not all of those parties only receiving 4 seats will actually cross the threshold to have any seats in the Knesset.

Since 61 seats are required to form a government, one wonders if a government will be formed or if Israel will need to have a fifth election. Here are some of the possible ways how parties could join together for enough seats to form a government. Who might join whom?

Binyamin Netanyahu has headed the Israel government for twelve years in a row since 2009 with a mostly right-wing bloc. Because of his ruling for so long and for other reasons, many right-wingers think that it is time for a change of leadership. In some ways Netanyahu is quite right-wing for example, he is in favor of "settlements" in the “West Bank”, but he also tends to try and please all sides. All of this and more, including personal animosity, have led other right-wing parties toward a non-Likud coalition to form a government. However, Netanyahu's successes, including the recent vaccination program, peace with the UAE and his proven economic abilities, have caused voters to return.

First, let us see if it would be possible for the left-wing leaning parties to form a coalition without any right-wing parties. That coalition would probably be Yesh Atid 17-20, Labor 5-6, Meretz 4, and Blue and While 4 for a total of 34 seats at most which is short of the required 61. Even if there was a chance that the Arab List and the United Arab List were to join the left-wing coalition with 12 more seats, the left-wing would still be 15 seats short of the 61 needed.

Second, if Netanyahu’s desire to continue as Prime Minister of Israel is strong enough that he would join the left-wing with no right-wing or religious parties, then with the 33 left-wing party seats and with Likud’s 28-32 seats, he would have enough seats to form a government. That is a highly unikely scenario as his voter base would soon let him know their disapproval.

Third, if all the right-wing and religious parties would agree and join together, they would have a total which is hovers around the 61 seats needed, but that is only if Yamina joins and the Religious Zionist party passes the threshhold.

Fourth, another scenario would be for a coalition made up of Likud, Yamina, Shas, UTJ, Religious Zionism and Yisrael Beytenu for a total of 65 or more seats. However, it is very unlikely that Yisrael Beytenu would join - after all, it was their refusal to join Netanyahu's coalition that began this cycle of repeated elections. I do not think that there is any chance that Gideon Sa'ar, head of the New Hope Party, would join with Netanyahu since his election platform is based on his being anti-Netanyahu..

Fifth, there is a possibility that Yamina and New Hope could join with Yesh Atid, although Bennett has said he will not be the one to make Lapid prime minister, but they all oppose Netanyahu with a total of 34-41 seats. Because that would not be enough to form a coalition they would need to find some more parties who would join them. If Liberman, Shas, and UTJ were to join with them with an additional 21-22 seats, the new total might be enough to form a government without Netanyahu. However, Shas has promised to go with Netanyahu and there is open enmity between Shas and the anti-haredi Yisrael Beytenu. In politics stranger things than this happen, but in that case it would be quite a struggle as to who would be the Prime Minister. The struggle would be between Lapid, Bennett, and Saar. I would guess that because of Lapid having more seats than Yamina or New Hope, that Yair Lapid would be the Prime Minister. Perhaps they would agree on rotation.

We will have to wait and see what kind of dickering and joining will take place as the elected members try to form a coalition along with President Rivlin. So I ask the election riddle: “Who will join with whom?”

Frank Mecklenburg is a freelance journalist living in Arad, Israel.