Israel Dissolves Parliament and What We Can Expect from the Fall Israeli Elections
On June 20, 2022, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that, after losing a parliamentary majority, he would step down as prime minister, which initiated the dissolution of the twenty-fourth Knesset (the Hebrew word for the Israeli legislative body). Another round of elections is set to take place this fall to select the twenty-fifth Knesset. These elections will be the fifth round of elections to take place in Israel in less than four years, highlighting the intense political battle in the country. This battle is rooted in the debate over how to handle recent developments in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Israelis vote again this November 1, the election will have implications far beyond choosing a new Knesset.
The dissolved government was the thirty-sixth government of Israel and the twenty-fourth Knesset and was elected on March 23, 2021. Until the November 1 elections are held, the current ruling coalition of the Israeli government is made up of the parties Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yamina, the Labor Party, Yisrael Beiteinu, New Hope, Meretz, and the United Arab List (also known as Ra’am in Hebrew). The alternate prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Yair Lapid, a centrist, is currently serving as the interim prime minister.
This next round of elections will give former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party (a center-right to right-wing party) and the current leader of the opposition party, a chance to regain his seat as prime minister that he lost in 2021. However, this will be a difficult task for Netanyahu due to his ongoing corruption trial unless he is able to reach a plea deal before the November elections. Netanyahu and Likud’s main opponent in the upcoming election is the Yesh Atid party and its leader, current interim prime minister, Yair Lapid.
Although Bennett’s government had to be dissolved, it did realize some notable achievements, such as licensing work permits to many Palestinians. Bennett’s stepping down and the dissolution of parliament, however, was no surprise, as his coalition held only a slight majority and primarily came together out of a desire to oust Netanyahu. The coalition, united by a singular purpose, was critically fragile from the beginning. Ultimately three members of the government, including two from Bennett’s Yamina party, left the coalition, and their departure caused Bennett to lose his majority. An additional issue, the United Arab List voting against essential policies put forth by the coalition, further highlighted the instability of the coalition from the start, although they did vow that they were committed to the government.
Thus, the ultimate collapse of the coalition was expected, as once the coalition achieved its primary mission to oust Netanyahu, there was little to no common ground between all eight parties. Arguments about how to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been paramount in the coalition since the March 2021 elections, mainly because the coalition was made up of both right, center, and left-wing parties who could not reach an agreement on whether or not there should be Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Under Bennett, settlement in the West Bank continued, causing added tension among the coalition.
In Israeli politics, there is a significant spectrum in the belief about how to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The right-wing is more reserved in its approach to peace negotiations, whereas the centrist and left-wing parties are more open to a broad range of options to find accord. An example of someone on the center-left side of the spectrum and that side’s beliefs about this conflict is Lapid himself. Lapid, who is a member of the centrist party Yesh Atid, is a strong proponent of the two-state solution with Palestine and advocates a near-full withdrawal from the West Bank while still opposing the splitting of Jerusalem.
The settlement of Israelis in the West Bank and the question of which group Jerusalem belongs to are two of the central issues plaguing Israeli politics today, with a wide variety of different opinions between each political party and each individual Israeli citizen. These two issues and the divisiveness between political parties on how to handle them are the primary reason Israel has had so much government turnover in the past three and a half years. Struggles with Palestine always loom in the background of every election. In the upcoming election specifically, the debated topics are the increasing tensions between Iran and Israel, state versus religion in politics, and the issue of the United Arab List is a member of the most recent coalition, with Netanyahu even stating that the coalition was “dependent on supporters of terrorism.” The center and left-wing sides of the political pendulum in Israel add to the list of issues, charging that the right-wing is dependent upon extremists.
The Likud Party and Netanyahu are currently showing a lead in the polls, although polls are inconclusive as to whether that lead will give their coalition all 61 seats needed to gain a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu’s popularity in Israel stems from his achievement of peace with Arab nations that previously had intensely hostile relations with Israel. These countries include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. The UAE and Bahrain, along with Israel, signed the original Abraham Accords peace agreement, and Sudan and Morocco followed. Israel also achieved strong economic growth under Netanyahu prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many Israelis, including several members of the government, not only the center and left-wing members, but also right-wing politicians, are strongly opposed to Netanyahu due to his dominance in Israeli politics that some see as a threat to Israeli democracy, his alliance with former US President Donald Trump, and his resistance to peace efforts with Palestine. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s history of scandals –such as favoring an Israeli telecom company in exchange for positive news and allegedly taking large monetary gifts from wealthy friends– is what led to his original ousting in 2021 and still concerns many Israeli people.
As this next round of elections approaches, many Israeli citizens have expressed their exhaustion with the recurring shifts in government and are now being required to vote for the fifth time in the past three and a half years. Maya Kleinman, an Israeli biologist, was quoted in the New York Times stating, “I have no energy to vote again. I feel I am being forced to vote. I feel I am being held hostage by a small and foul-smelling politics.” Even as Israelis are fatigued and begrudgingly going to the polls yet again, many express doubt that this election will lead to any significant changes in Israeli politics, and some even expect that there will be elections again next year due to the difficulty in creating a right-wing alliance with Likud. In past elections, the biggest issue that decided most Israeli citizens’ votes was the question, “Bibi [a nickname for Netanyahu] - yes or no?” As Israel approaches this election and assuming the Netanyahu trials are complete before election day, this question will yet again be at the center. This question has become so significant in recent years that even right-wing ideological peers oppose Netanyahu so strongly that they are entering into coalitions with center and left-wing parties, as seen in the most recent thirty-sixth government of Israel.
Similar to the recent trends in United States politics, where many Republicans are defecting to the left as the Trump sphere of influence maintains and expands its stronghold over the GOP, Israel is facing a battle ahead over an individual who appears to reject a middle ground. Whereas some Israelis agree with the right strongly, many disagree with him enough to oust him from office.
It is important to consider the longstanding complexity of Israeli politics, which has grown more complex in recent years, as discussions of the Israeli political climate are all too often grossly oversimplified. There are too many differing and changing political views in Israel to define, and as recent years have shown, as the people get exhausted with the political turmoil, the government is fighting hard to resolve these issues. The majority of Israelis have hope that peace will be achieved soon with the Palestinians, and a strong government will settle into place for a full term.