Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem September 5, 2018..
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had changed his view on the electoral threshold for entering the Knesset in a meeting with coalition heads on Sunday.
Netanyahu’s previous government passed a law raising the threshold from 2% of the vote to 3.25% with great fanfare in March 2014.
“The people of Israel need a strong and stable government and less fragments of parties,” the prime minister said at the time, so his Likud Party would continue to seek the threshold’s gradual raise.
To that end, just two years ago, Likud MK Sharren Haskel submitted a bill that would have raised the threshold to 7%, which the Zionist Union Party endorsed immediately.
But due to concerns that the Likud’s satellite parties might not pass the threshold and make it harder for him to build a government if he won the next election, Netanyahu asked his coalition partners Sunday whether they could cooperate on lowering the threshold to 2.75%.
“I am considering lowering the threshold by a half percent,” Netanyahu said. “We would only do it if everyone agreed on it. Without agreement, the issue cannot be advanced.”
The smallest faction elected to the current Knesset was Meretz, with five seats. Lowering the threshold by half a percent could enable there to be factions with four seats and possibly three.
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But Shas opposes lowering the threshold, because former Shas chairman Eli Yishai’s Yahad party would have a better chance of entering the Knesset. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett opposes the move, because the National Union party could decide to leave his faction and run on its own.
United Torah Judaism head Ya’acov Litzman is said to be fearful of a split in his party if the threshold is lowered. Sources in Kulanu said their party was indifferent to the idea.
“Deri would probably die for the threshold to be lowered, but he cannot afford to look weak by supporting the move,” a source in the coalition said.
“Bibi’s nightmare is that Shas and Yishai’s party would both get three seats, and it would not be enough to cross the threshold.”
The threshold was raised from 2% ahead of the last election in a move initiated by Yisrael Beytenu that was seen as intended to harm the Arab parties. Due to the bill, four Arab parties ran together in the 2015 election as the Joint List and won 13 seats.
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