Elections 2019: Back to the 1980s

Since history seems to be repeating itself, as the small parties will probably resume extorting the large ones, a new solution must be implemented.

April 27, 2019 21:45
Israeli Arab voting

An Israeli-Arab father casts a ballot together with his children, as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, at a polling station in Umm al-Fahm, Israel April 9, 2019. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

As expected, the 2019 elections ended with a clear victory by the right-wing bloc headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The great hope of the center-left camp – the Blue-White Party headed by Benny Gantz – won an impressive 35 seats, but failed to change the balance between the blocs, as it was based almost entirely on center-left voters, mainly at the expense of the Labor, which was shattered from 24 to 6 seats. In total, the right-wing bloc (including the ultra-Orthodox parties) won 65 seats, the center-left bloc won 45, and the Arab bloc, 10.

In essence, there are three main conclusions stemming from the 2019 elections results:

First, the victory of the rightwing bloc could have been even greater, and would have stood at 67 seats if Naftali Bennett’s New Right Party would have passed the threshold. In fact, of the 8.5% of the lost votes, nearly 6% were votes of right-wing parties (New Right 3.22%, and Zehut 2.74%).

Second, the Arab public expressed a comprehensive lack of confidence in its political leadership. While in the 2015 elections the turnout of Israeli Arabs was 65%, and the Arab Joint List won 90% of those votes, in the 2019 elections the turnout and the two Arab parties’ support dropped to 50% and 70%, respectively. Moreover, while in the 2015 elections only 7% of the Arab public chose to vote for non-Arab parties, in the 2019 elections this figure nearly doubled to 13%, bestowing Blue and White and Meretz one seat each.

In total, compared to the Jewish public, of which 70% votes in elections and supports Jewish parties, only 35% of the Arab public chose to vote in the 2019 elections and support the Arab parties (compared with 55% in the 2015 elections). These figures indicate a total lack of confidence in the Arab leadership among the Arab public, whose electoral strength is 17-18 seats.

Third, although there are claims that the ultra-Orthodox public is abandoning its UTJ and Shas parties, the reality illustrates that the ultra-Orthodox strongly supports its leaders. Thus, similar to the 2015 elections, both the turnout of the ultra-Orthodox voters and their support for the ultra-Orthodox parties remained the same, 80% and 90%, respectively. Practically, while in 2015 election the ultra-Orthodox parties won only 13 seats (due to that Eli Yishai’s Yahad Party, which took approximately three seats from Shas, won only 3% and failed to pass the threshold), the outcome of the 2019 elections reflects the true electoral power of the ultra-Orthodox parties, 16-18 seats).

ULTIMATELY, THE 2019 elections brought the Knesset back to a bipolar balance, as it was in the 1980s, in which there are two major parties and a large number of small parties, whose political power does not reflect their electoral power. In this situation, as long as a national unity government will not be formed between Likud and Blue and White (each won 35 seats), Netanyahu will depend on the goodwill of the small right-wing parties, which will most likely threaten to dismantle the coalition if their political demands are not met.

Such threats were already heard before the government was even formed, as UJT leader Ya’acov Litzman has threatened that his party will not join Netanyahu’s government unless the new Draft Law, which will soon be raised for a vote in the Knesset, is not amended.

This chaotic political situation in which the small parties extrapolate the ruling party politically, led in the 1990s to legislation to change the electoral system, in which the Israeli public chose two ballots, one for the prime minister and one for the party in the Knesset. However, despite the intention to strengthen governance by narrowing the prime minister’s dependence on the Knesset and the smaller parties, the new system actually enhanced the electoral power of the smaller parties at the expense of the major ones. Therefore, after two elections in which the new system was implemented (1996 and 1999), in 2003, Israeli returned to the old system.

Since history seems to be repeating itself, as the small parties will probably resume extorting the large ones, a new solution must be implemented. One proposal is to raise the threshold further to 5%, which will reduce the number of parties without excluding social groups and minorities from the Knesset. Thus, a coalition with a smaller number of parties would be established, one that would be easier to maintain and thus strengthen governance in Israel.

If the threshold stands at 5%, certain parties will have to unite in order to survive politically, as all the Arab parties did in 2015. By looking at the 2019 election results, although it is practically impossible to predict what a particular union would do, assuming that all the religious Zionist parties, the Zionist Left parties, and the Arab parties would unite, we would receive a Knesset with the following composition: Likud 37, Blue and White 36, Arab Union 11, Leftist Union 11, Religious Zionism 9, Shas 8, and UTJ 8. Thus, while following the 2019 election, Netanyahu has to negotiate with five coalition partners, a 5% threshold would have reduced this number to only three parties, which would make it easier for him to maintain his government.

In conclusion, in order to raise the threshold to 5%, which will certainly provoke strong opposition among all the small parties in the Knesset, a unity government is needed between the Likud and Blue and White parties. Apart from unilaterally implementing President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan and annexing the Jordan Valley and settlement blocs, such a government would be able to strengthen governance in Israel.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales. He was formerly a foreign affairs and political adviser to Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, a deputy chairman of Labor Party Youth, and a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.

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