The headline of last week’s Israel election was clear and dramatic – Benjamin Netanyahu secured his fourth consecutive term as Prime Minister (fifth term overall), ensuring he will become the nation’s longest-serving leader.
But like most elements of Israeli politics, there is still much work to be done before we can understand what to expect from the next ruling coalition government.
In the weeks ahead, Netanyahu and his Likud party leadership must negotiate agreements with the leaders of other parties to catapult the 36 votes that Likud received into a 61-vote majority (or more) within the Knesset.
While Likud appears to have enough natural allies among other right-leaning parties to ensure that a governing coalition comes together, there are many questions about what those parties will demand from Netanyahu for their support – ranging from party leaders serving in particular cabinet ministerial positions, to commitments for specific policy positions.
What gets decided is sure to have many implications for the Israeli government’s relationship with the diaspora Jewish population of America and around the world. And still to be seen is what impact the new government will have on the Middle East plan that’s been under development for the past two years by President Trump’s administration.
Lingering over all of the post-election negotiations is the criminal corruption investigation into Netanyahu and whether Israel’s Attorney General pursues indictments against the Prime Minister. Some have speculated that Netanyahu may seek to secure a commitment from partner parties to pass legislation giving him immunity – something that would have wide-ranging repercussions and likely would further energize debate and vitriol both inside and outside of Israel.
One interesting observation I’ve seen from the preliminary election results is how many votes in last week’s election essentially did not count and will not be represented in the upcoming Knesset membership. A political party must receive 3.25 percent of the vote to qualify for seats in the Knesset, and more than 8 percent of voters chose parties that fell below this threshold.
That threshold impacted parties on both the left and the right. Some are tiny and received just a couple of thousand votes. But other parties that fell short, despite tens of thousands of supporters, include the New Right party, with Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and the Zehut party of Moshe Feiglin, who attracted a lot of media attention in the weeks leading up to the election for his platform of legalizing marijuana and reconstructing the biblical temple.
One might wonder what impact different voter choices or adjusted election systems might have had on the results, and on the potential checks and balances in the system.
As the deal-making commences among the parties, all of us here in the United States will be watching closely.
Interested in learning more? I encourage you to join the Baltimore Jewish Council on Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m., at the JCC in Park Heights. We will be hosting Gil Hoffman, Chief Political Correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, to talk about the election results and look ahead to what we should expect from the new coalition government. I’m confident Gil will begin to have answers to many of the questions that all of us have.
Howard Libit is executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.