Israel elections: What happens if the Netanyahu bloc fails to reach 61? - analysis

How could Lapid or Gantz attempt to form a government if Netanyahu fails to?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

If the election results show tomorrow that the Netanyahu bloc failed to reach 61 seats, what will happen?

The first step following the election will be for President Isaac Herzog to decide who receives the mandate to attempt to form a government. Herzog will likely make this decision based on who receives the largest number of recommendations – not necessarily the most mandates.

Even without 61 seats, this likely will still be opposition leader and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu, since Prime Minister Yair Lapid is not expected to receive the recommendation of the Arab parties.

Netanyahu will then receive 28 days to form a government and can request 14 days more. Judging by his conduct in the previous elections, he is likely to use up all of the time he can, even if he realizes early on that he cannot form a government.

The mandate will then likely go to Lapid, who will receive another 28 days to attempt to garner the necessary 61 votes to form a government.

 Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Israeli Minister of Energy Karin Elharar hold a press conference on the maritime border deal with Lebanon, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2022.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Israeli Minister of Energy Karin Elharar hold a press conference on the maritime border deal with Lebanon, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Lapid will not be able to include Hadash-Ta’al in a coalition and therefore will require votes from the opposite side.

Haredi MKs could support Lapid

The first scenario is that some or all of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MKs would support him. Lapid has reportedly been maintaining contact with haredi MKs, especially from United Torah Judaism (UTJ).

Yesh Atid MK Moshe Turpaz has also maintained ties with haredi MKs, which began during discreet negotiations over the Belz Arrangement to encourage haredi schools to adopt core studies of English and mathematics.

The Belz Arrangement was geared toward Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic part of UTJ. Its leader, Yitzhak Goldknopf, has largely remained mum on an option of joining Lapid post-election. The leader of UTJ’s Lithuanian Degel Hatorah faction, MK Moshe Gafni, has been more insistent that he will not join Lapid under any circumstances, but Gafni also said that he will assess the situation again if Netanyahu fails to receive 61 seats.

Shas is the only haredi party to have joined a left-wing government – in the early ‘90s under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. This time, however, it seems to be the least likely party to join Lapid. Shas leader Aryeh Deri said in a video on Monday that the Right was acting as a unified bloc, and would not break apart even if it meant going to the opposition.

It is highly unlikely that Lapid will be able to bring the haredim over to his side, as this will entail making significant concessions that Yesh Atid voters may not be able to digest. Lapid is also not a well-liked figure in haredi society, to say the least, and for many he is a persona non grata.

A second option is that members of the Likud rebel against Netanyahu and support a Lapid government. This is even more unlikely, as it would constitute political suicide. There are reportedly a number of MKs who are ready to defy Netanyahu, but this still does not mean that they will completely jump ship, even if it means they would become ministers in a Lapid-led government.

Mandate to form government could go to Gantz

The only remaining option other than heading to a sixth election would be if a majority of MKs vote to give the mandate to form a government to someone else – presumably Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Gantz has the same options as Lapid, but with an added disadvantage of what polls are expecting to be less than half of Lapid’s size. However, the National Unity Party leader reportedly has better relations with the haredi parties and had explicitly included them as a part of a future coalition. Some Likud MKs may be more comfortable joining a Gantz-led coalition, although this still remains a long shot.

Gantz has maxed out at 14 in the polls. Even if he passes this number and receives 15 or 16 seats, he will have to work hard to convince his partners that he has the legitimacy to serve as prime minister, especially since his own running mate, former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, has said that the party needs a “high double-digit” number in order to demand the premiership.

Still, facing the sixth election and with Lapid expected to continue indefinitely as interim prime minister, MKs and parties may be willing to make significant concessions.

The bottom line is that if Netanyahu fails to reach 61, the highest likelihood is that Israel will head to yet another election, once again leaving it without a budget and without the ability to enact long-term policies.

The unexpected may happen, as it happened the last election, and a coalition may form of parties from the Center, Left and one or both of the haredi parties. But this coalition will have to deal with a constant tug of war between its secular wing and the demands of the haredi parties. And with the opposition expected to be no less tenacious than it was over the past year, it is highly doubtful that such a coalition could last a full four-year term. 

The bottom line is that if Netanyahu fails to reach 61, the highest likelihood is that Israel will head to yet another election, once again leaving it without a budget and without the ability to enact long-term policies. 

The unexpected may happen, as it happened in the last election, and a coalition may be formed of parties from the Center, Left and one or both of the haredi parties. But this coalition will have to deal with a constant tug of war between its secular wing and the demands of the haredi parties. And with the opposition expected to be no less tenacious than it was over the past year, it is highly doubtful that such a coalition could last a full four-year term.