The three-and-a-half month national election campaign for the 23rd Knesset ended with the closing of polls at 10 PM last night; the outcome of which once again exposes a deep divide within Israel’s diverse society.
Despite multiple pre-election shifts between many of the competing parties, the Likud party of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have reasserted its leading role by capturing one mandate more than the previous election, securing 36 out of Jerusalem’s 120 seat Parliament.
Until the ballot count is finalized on 10 March there are likely to be minor, yet possibly significant shifts over the coming week.
The inability of either candidate to secure a clear majority is consistent with every other national election in the country’s 71-year history, thus necessitating a negotiating process with smaller parties to form a ruling coalition. This complex challenge may prove detrimental to Netanyahu, as the total seats gained by his natural political partners falls 2 short of a 61 majority. The right-wing Yamina took 6 seats, while the ultra-orthodox Shas received 10 and Yahadut HaTora has 7.
While Blue and White failed to surpass Netanyahu’s Likud, it could still cobble together a government if partnered with the Labor-Gesher-Meretz union and Yisrael Beitenu, at 7 seats each; along with the 15-mandate Joint Arab List.
The rightwing Yisrael Beitenu and the Joint Arab List alliance of Islamist and Communist parties, however, have made it clear that neither would agree to join a coalition with the other. The Joint List could nevertheless agree to provide backing of a minority coalition formed by the opposition; motivated by limited common ground rooted entirely on ending Netanyahu’s enduring on power.
Despite of these expected challenges, Netanyahu did not shy away from declaring an overwhelming victory for his ruling Likud after it once again secured the position as Israel’s largest political party. “But this victory, this time, is as sweet and even sweeter, an even greater victory,” he proclaimed shortly after the preliminary results were made public last night, adding, “Because it is a victory against all odds.”
Netanyahu further ignored approaching battle to attract a necessary majority for a coalition by insisting the Likud and its political allies would be able to overcome any obstacles. “Our rivals said that the Netanyahu era is over,” he stated, stressing that “with joined forces, we turned the tables, we turned lemons into lemonade.”
In contrast to Netanyahu’s triumphant speech, Gantz told his supporters, “I will tell you honestly, I understand and share the feeling of disappointment and pain because it is not the result we wanted,” nor would it be “the result that will put Israel back on the right track.”
The former IDF Chief of Staff also maintained that the State of Israel “needs healing, it needs unity, it needs reconciliation, it longs for a connecting leadership. And this is what we will continue to offer the Israeli public which we came to serve.”
If Netanyahu – already the longest serving premier in the country’s history – does succeeds in forming the nation’s next government, he will also serve an unprecedented fifth term in office.
Failure by Netanyahu’s religious-right bloc to attain even one or two mandates could lead to another first in history – yet another, fourth round of elections.