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Home > Publications > PISM Spotlights > PISM Spotlight: Parliamentary Elections in Israel—Victory for Netanyahu

PISM Spotlight: Parliamentary Elections in Israel—Victory for Netanyahu

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12 April 2019
Michał Wojnarowicz
no. 15/2019

The Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won early elections to the Knesset. Potential coalition partners’ results will allow the PM to maintain the current government with a similar composition. It also strengthens Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations, but may require significant political concessions for him to stay in power.

What are the preliminary election results?

Likud received the majority of votes, guaranteeing it 35 seats. It slightly outran opposition centre-right bloc “Blue and White” (led by Benjamin Gantz and Yair Lapid), which scored the same number of seats. The religious parties United Torah Judaism and Shas both had good results, winning a total of about 16 seats. Also clearing the electoral threshold were previous Likud coalition members Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu, as well as United Right, which represents settlers and the extreme right. The Israeli left’s result was weak and Arab parties also lost some seats. The New Right, a party created by ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, might not even reach the threshold. Official results will be announced by 17 April but for now, unofficial results confirm the dominance of the right wing, supported by the vast majority of Israeli society.

What do the results mean for Netanyahu?

Likud’s best results since 2003 strengthen Netanyahu as party leader and the electoral success of the right wing allows him to remain PM—for the fifth time. The majority of the parties from the current coalition recommends his candidacy (in accordance with constitutional law) for president. The renewed mandate strengthens Netanyahu as he faces advanced proceedings regarding corruption allegations. Keeping the right-wing coalition gives Netanyahu the best chance of maintaining power, even if there is a formal indictment. Some future partners (e.g., religious parties), based on their previous statements, may refrain from attempts to undermine the PM till the final court sentence, which is a long-term perspective. At the same time, they will use Netanyahu’s troubles to escalate their demands in priority areas, such as in negotiations of ministerial portfolios.

What goals will the new Knesset pursue?

If maintained, Netanyahu’s government will continue his current political line. It includes attempts to limit the prerogatives of the Supreme Court, to reduce the cost of living in Israel, or to privilege the position of the Jewish majority vis a vis the mostly Arab minority. The enactment of laws enforcing military service on the ultra-orthodox population may cause disputes within the coalition and a lack of compromise on this matter was the official pretext for shortening the previous term. Netanyahu, though, denies these intentions and may initiate legislation to improve his legal situation, including a law that provides immunity for an incumbent prime minister. Such a move is assessed as very controversial, especially if it is retroactive, and may not find support among all the coalition partners.

How will the elections affect foreign policy?

In foreign policy, Israel is expected to maintain continuity. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is most likely to be kept by Likud in the coalition negotiations. Diplomatic efforts will be intensified to establish foreign diplomatic missions in Jerusalem and win recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The composition of the new coalition, especially the participation of radical parties, will stiffen Israel’s position during reactivation of the peace process, pursued by the U.S. administration (announced for the post-election period in Israel). The question remains whether Netanyahu, who is being pressed by his coalition, will actually implement the declarations from the campaign regarding the annexation into Israel of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Such a move would mean a breakdown in relations with the Palestinians and result in open conflict.