Analysis: Broad Fragmentation in Parliament Plunges Israel into Election Maze

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Analysis: Broad Fragmentation in Parliament Plunges Israel into Election Maze

A polling station could ask a voter in Israel today: “Do you come here often?” And the worst thing is that he comes. This Tuesday (1st), the country held its fifth election in less than four years to try to form a government that can – probably will not – make it to the end of the term.

Israel has been struggling to get out of its electoral cycle, which suggests that the system is not working so well. This issue is already well known, moreover. In the last 20 years, Israel has had ten legislative elections.

One of the main obstacles is the electoral barrier, considered low. Parties with more than 3.25% of the national vote are elected to Parliament. With so much competition, none come close to having the majority of seats — 61 out of 120 — needed to form a government.

In this fragmented landscape, parties need to negotiate hard to build consensus. They tend to use small acronyms, including those at the margins of the political spectrum. As a result, smaller parties have influence disproportionate to their size.

Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s candidacy is also a factor of instability in its own right. In the past, Israelis may have voted with issues such as security, the economy and the future of the Palestinians in mind. In the last elections, however, public debate focused on Netanyahu’s political fate — that is, voters voted to ensure his return to power or prevent him.

His court battles — he is responding to corruption allegations — have further stirred those passions. Just skim over the news in the Israeli and international press in recent days. All reports on the election emphasize the possibility that Netanyahu will return to power. It is rarer to find analyzes of the candidates’ proposals or even their political trajectories.

The exit polls released on Tuesday afternoon (1st), at the end of the election, indicated that, together, Netanyahu and allies won 61 or 62 seats, a narrow margin to try to form a government. To return to power, he will need to rely on the right-wing radicals Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, raised from the very low clergy to the role of chancelloring a government.

Racist Ben-Gvir was a member of a terrorist group and idolizes Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli extremist who killed 29 Muslims in 1994 in Hebron. Like so many other right-wing radicals, he has nuanced some of his most problematic positions, but he still advocates, among other agendas, the expulsion of Arab citizens who do not pledge allegiance to Israel. He also opposes the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

Netanyahu will also need the ultra-religious Yahadut Hatrah (Torah Judaism) and Shas parties. Even so, it is unclear whether he will get 61 seats. The opposing coalition is led by centrist Yair Lapid, who is now premier. His party, Yesh Atid (There’s a Future), counts on the centrist union Machané Mamlachtit (National Camp), the Ra’am (United Arab List) and the leftists Labor and Meretz to try to get those 61 seats.

Even if Netanyahu or Lapid manage to form a government, it is unlikely that, in the current context, it will last long. If there is again a fragile parliamentary majority, it will be enough for a single member of the government to break the alliance to return the country to the polls. In the past, small ultra-Orthodox acronyms have taken advantage of this power to ensure that their community is not drafted into mandatory military service.

Palestinian populations, both inside and outside Israel, are watching this coming and going carefully.

There is, however, little expectation that the result will influence the existential questions of Middle-Eastern politics: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the dispute over Jerusalem and the possibility of the return of millions of Palestinian refugees. In a way, it doesn’t matter whether Netanyahu, Lapid — or anyone else — wins. The Palestinians are, for now, losing.

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