Will Netanyahu form a government after elections?

Despite the unification of the lists between Gantz and Lapid, I prudently contend that the elections of 2019 will not herald a political turnover in favor of the center-left bloc.

February 22, 2019 04:04
4 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R)

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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The main conundrum in the coming elections is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue for a fifth term. Despite those who feel that the 2019 elections will end in a political turnover and that Benny Gantz will be the one who will form the new government, I argue that unless the legal process forces him to resign, Netanyahu will probably be the one to form it.

Analysis of election results shows that since the Likud won for the first time in 1977, after 29 years of Labor’s rule, the right-wing bloc (together with the ultra-Orthodox parties) failed to obtain a majority in the Knesset only twice out of 12 elections. The first time was in 1992, when the right-wing bloc won 59 seats, the center-left bloc won 56 seats and the Arab bloc won five seats. 
Thus, Labor chairman Yitzhak Rabin was able to form a center-left government, which relied on the support of the Arab parties.
Practically, the formation of a center-left government would not have been possible had the right-wing Tehiya Party – which eventually won only 1.2% of the votes and did not pass the 1.5% threshold – would have succeeded in entering the Knesset. In this situation, the right-wing bloc would have won at least 60 seats. 
The second time was in 2006, as the center-left bloc, together with the Arab parties, suc-ceeded in achieving a coalition majority. In contrast to the 2003 elections, when the right-wing bloc won 69 seats, compared to 43 seats for the center-left bloc and eight seats for the Arab bloc, in the 2006 elections there was a drastic change in the balance between the blocs.
Thus, the right-wing bloc dropped by 19 Knesset seats and won only 50, compared to the center-left bloc, which gained 17 seats to win 60, and the Arab bloc who won 10 seats. Two reasons led to the 2006 inter-bloc transformation: First, the establishment of the Kadima Party, which split from the Likud and managed to attract votes from the right-wing bloc (six seats from Likud voters in 2003), eventually winning 29 seats. In fact, 70% of Kadima’s votes came from center-left voters (14 seats from Shinui and seven from Labor voters in 2003).
The second reason was the appointment of Amir Peretz as Labor Party leader, although the party under his leadership retained its power in the 2006 elections and won 19 seats. While it lost seven seats to Kadima, Labor managed to take the same number of seats from Likud. Those were traditional Likud voters who identified with the new Labor leader and former chairman of the Histadrut, who was portrayed as a fighter for the weaker sectors of the society, traditionally comprised of right-wing voters.
Results of the last three elections demonstrate that the right-wing bloc continues to maintain a coalition majority and that the center-left bloc is unable to create an alternative  – one that would be able to attract votes from the Right side of the political spectrum. In the 2009 elections, the right-wing bloc won 65 seats, compared to 44 seats for the center-left bloc, and 11 for the Arab bloc. The right-wing victory stemmed from the fact that, compared with the 2006 elections, Kadima voters were composed almost entirely of center-left voters.
Practically, Kadima lost eight seats to the Likud and three to Yisrael Beytenu, but managed to take seven seats from Labor and six from Gil, the pensioners’ party. Thus, Kadima under Tzipi Livni’s leadership was unable to keep its right-wing voters, who eventually gave a majority to Netanyahu to form a government under his leadership. In the 2013 elections, the right-wing bloc won 61 seats, compared to 48 seats for the center-left bloc and 11 for the Arab bloc.
Like the Kadima Party in 2009 elections, Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid – which won 19 seats – was unable to attract votes from the right-wing bloc and was almost entirely based on center-left voters (16 seats from Kadima and two from Labor voters in those elections). Even in the 2015 elections, despite the seemingly tight battle between the Likud and the Zionist Union, the right-wing bloc won again with 67 seats, compared with 40 for the center-left bloc and 13 for the Arab Joint List.
In fact, the rise of the right-wing bloc is due to the success of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party in transferring votes from the center-left bloc to the right-wing bloc, as half of its 10 seats came from former Yesh Atid and Hatnua voters in the 2013 elections. In addition, similar to Kadima in 2009 and Yesh Atid in 2013, Zionist Union, the great hope of the center-left bloc, failed to take votes from the Right. In practice, the 24 mandates won by the Zionist Union were entirely based on voters from the center-left bloc (14 seats from Labor, six from Yesh Atid and two each from Meretz and Hatnua voters in 2013).
In conclusion, polls indicate that all right-wing parties are about to pass the threshold, and that Benny Gantz’s new Israel Resilience Party is unable to take many votes from the right-wing bloc, relying almost entirely on voters from the center-left parties. Hence, despite the unification of the lists between Gantz and Lapid, I prudently contend that the elections of 2019 will not herald a political turnover in favor of the center-left bloc. In this situation, the right-wing bloc will probably lose a few seats, but it will still win a majority that promises Netanyahu a fifth term in office.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and a former candidate on the Labor Knesset list.

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