What happened: With nearly 100 per cent of the votes counted in the Israeli general election, the final outcome remained the same: Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party beat Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud by two seats (33-31), Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party won 8 seats retaining its position as the kingmaker of any future coalition. Overall the centre-left/Arab bloc of parties outperformed the right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc by two seats – 57 to 55.
- Netanyahu’s calls yesterday for immediate national unity talks with Gantz were rebuffed by the Blue and White leader, who declared victory and said his party would “not be dictated to.”
- Gantz re-stated his intention to form a broad and liberal unity government. Netanyahu, for his part, said he was “disappointed” at Gantz’s refusal to meet.
Context: This initial coalition jockeying came after voting data showed a collapse in support for the right-wing bloc of parties in key areas. In the April election the Likud won 35 seats, the United Right won 5, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu 4, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right got 138,598 votes and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut 118,031, but neither won any seats. Running in slightly new formations, Likud won 31 seats and the Yamina party 7 seats, this bloc suffered a significant loss of support compared to April.
- Official returns showed a cumulative loss of support nationally for Likud (now nominally including both Kulanu and Zehut) in previous strongholds and demographic groups.
- In particular, downturn in support was noticeable among Ethiopian Israelis and towns in southern Israel – the former likely due to outrage over police conduct, the latter likely due to continued rocket fire from Gaza.
- Loss of support was also evident in formerly solid Likud cities like Netanya, Bat Yam, Naharia, and Acre – all showed a several percentage point drop from the previous April election. On a cumulative national scale these dips added up.
- Former Likud voters are believed to have dispersed to a variety of parties, including Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, the Labor-Gesher alliance, Blue and White, and the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas. And yet, while Arab-Israeli turnout rose significantly (60 percent compared to 49 percent in April) overall voter turnout increased slightly (69 percent compared to 68 per cent in April). It’s possible also that a number of right-wing voters didn’t turn out to vote at all.
Looking ahead: The government formation process is currently deadlocked, with neither Likud nor Blue and White holding a clear path to form a government without the other. A national unity government between the two (and including Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu) is the most likely option, yet the main stumbling block is Blue and White’s refusal to join a Government with Netanyahu.
- President Reuven Rivlin will begin consultations with party leaders on Sunday and Monday. Once the election results are officially certified, likely next Wednesday, Rivlin will ask a party leader to begin forming a government. The President makes that decision based on his judgement as to who has the best chance of forming a Government.
- Further complicating matters, Benjamin Netanyahu’s has a pre-trial hearing on October 2 and 3 to challenge the Attorney General’s evidence against him in three cases. The Attorney General announced in February his intention to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending this hearing. Netanyahu said yesterday that he had no intention of agreeing a plea bargain but confirmed that his lawyers would attend the hearing. The Attorney General is then expected to take 2-3 months to announce a final decision whether or not to indict the Prime Minster.
- Netanyahu had hoped to build a 61 seat majority coalition in order to secure a 61 MK vote to grant him immunity from prosecution. That now looks impossible so Netanyahu intends to fight the case. But he will only accept a coalition deal where he remains as Prime Minister, and not a senior cabinet post, because Government ministers are required to resign if they are indicted.