Are we heading for a unity government?

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Israeli electionAnalysis

Are we heading for a unity government?

With another political deadlock in the Jewish state following the second general election of 2019, Richard Pater of BICOM looks at the possible options on the table

Richard Pater
Heads of the Joint List party reacts as the first results in the Israeli Knesset elections are announced, September 17, 2019.. Photo by: Gil Eliyahu-JINIPIX
Heads of the Joint List party reacts as the first results in the Israeli Knesset elections are announced, September 17, 2019.. Photo by: Gil Eliyahu-JINIPIX

Israeli politics could reach another stalemate as neither Likud nor Blue and White can form a blocking majority without each other.

Among the winners on the night, Avigdor Lieberman from Yisrael Beteinu received nine seats. According to experts, the “generation and a half” of Russian-speaking voters accounts for a base of only five seats, so for him to almost double that tally suggests his pitch for a broad national unity liberal government resonated with some traditional right-wing voters.

Speaking on Tuesday night, Lieberman presented himself as the responsible adult, suggesting ahead of the formal process that President Rivlin invite both Netanyahu and Gantz for informal talks to explore a national unity government, presumably with some sort of rotation agreement over the role of prime minister.

The other big winner, with 12 seats, is the Joint (Arab) List. They are the third largest party and if a unity government is formed, their leader Ayman Odeh could become Leader of the Opposition. There has never been an Arab in that role and it would give him preferential access to the prime minister and security briefings.

It seems Netanyahu’s fear-mongering over the influence of the Arab vote boomeranged and acted as a motivating factor for the Arab community to come out and vote – unlike their low turnout in April.

The left-wing parties dodged a bullet as both made it over the threshold, but the far-right Jewish Power did not make the cut, their approximate 74,000 (1.95 percent) votes going to waste. Right-wing grouping Yamina was left disappointed with only seven seats. It has already announced its break-up into two separate factions.

Centrists are now urging President Rivlin to play a more dominant role in pushing for a national unity government, lest we face a dreaded third election.

  • Richard Pater is a political analyst based in Jerusalem and Director of BICOM’s Israel Office.  
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