Analyzing the Implications of the Dissolution of the Israeli Knesset
Foreign Policy Brief #140 | By: Ian Milden | July 5, 2022
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On June 22nd, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced plans to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. This means that a snap election will be held this fall. This will be the fifth election in Israel in under four years. Bennett, a conservative, stepped down and his coalition partner, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, was selected to be the interim Prime Minister until new elections are held. Lapid, a centrist, was supposed to become the Prime Minister after two years if the coalition survived that long. The Knesset was dissolved on June 30th.
The governing coalition in the Knesset came together because all members of the coalition wanted someone other than Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister role and a broad ideological coalition was the only way to achieve that. The coalition was composed of Israeli moderates, liberals, Arab parties, and conservatives who were disgusted with Netanyahu’s corruption and style of governing. Netanyahu is facing multiple corruption charges from cases that have been public for years. He has remained in the Knesset as the opposition leader.
The coalition collapsed because of its inability to agree on major policy issues with the policy on the West Bank being the breaking point. Members of the coalition threatened to withhold support over positions that they did not like leaving the Israeli government unable to make significant policy changes on many policy issues. This coalition was formed because it was the only way to establish a government without Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
The election will take place on November 1st. Netanyahu remains the leader of his Likud Party and three religious right-wing parties continue to support him. In the past few elections, this group of four parties has not been large enough to give Netanyahu a stable majority, but it was large enough to prevent anyone else from forming a majority in the Knesset until the coalition that just collapsed was formed last year. There do not appear to be any significant challenges to Netanyahu’s leadership within the Likud Party at the moment.
It’s hard to say what the results of this fall’s election might be. Complicating matters is Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which remains ongoing and may not finish by the time the election occurs due to the judicial system’s summer recess.
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If the trial does not conclude, Netanyahu could form a coalition if his supporters win enough seats by capitalizing on anti-Arab sentiment or if his party gets additional seats due to an opposition party not meeting the 3.5% viability threshold. Many of Naftali Bennett’s supporters are not happy that he formed a government with Arab parties, which affected policy in a manner that Bennett’s supporters did not like. This dynamic led to Bennett announcing that he would not run in the upcoming election, so there are voters that Netanyahu can try to persuade to support him.
Bennett handed leadership of the Yamina Party to Ayelet Shaked, who has expressed an openness to forming a coalition with Netanyahu. It is unclear how the change in leadership will affect the support for the Yamina Party, an ideologically conservative party, in the upcoming election. Arab parties have never been in the governing coalition before, so it is not known how their participation in the previous coalition will affect voter behavior.
Netanyahu becoming Prime Minister again is not guaranteed, even if his corruption trial does not conclude. The election may produce a Knesset where nobody can form a majority coalition. This has been the result of most of the recent elections, which is why there have been so many elections in such a short period of time.
The polls indicate that this is the most likely result if the election were held today. However, the polls do not account for the recent changes with the Yamina Party’s leadership. Yair Lapid could also remain as the Prime Minister, but that will depend on which parties get seats in the Knesset and their willingness to cut a deal with him.
The results of the Israeli elections also have implications for the United States. The United States is being urged by the European Union to reengage with Iran and reinforce the nuclear agreement that was made in 2015. Any deal between the United States and Iran would have to be structured to deter Iran and Israel from taking unilateral offensive action against each other. Defense Minister Benny Gantz suggested the current government would be interested in participating in talks while Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent of the deal with Iran.