The inconclusive results in Tuesday’s Israeli election could spell the beginning of the end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.
The was one of the conclusions a panel of Israel analysts reached at a discussion Thursday at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC.
Israeli voters gave Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party 33 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s Likud party won 31 seats. It takes 61 seats to form a governing majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
This could mean the end for Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has served as Israel’s prime minister for 13 years, and until April’s inconclusive election, had never lost. Combined with the allegations of corruption, his “aura of invincibility” is gone, said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Now, all bets are off.
“Since the blood is in the water, you see other sharks swimming around in the Likud and outside of the Likud,” she said, referring to Netanyahu’s party. “The fact that Netanyahu failed to form a government because his old partner, Avigdor Lieberman did not help him, ended up harming him a lot.”
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party won eight seats, and may hold the balance in deciding the outcome of coalition negotiations.
“The fact that you can always lose confidence means a government can fall on a dime,” said Natan Sachs director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. “[After] what happened in April, means that if you fail to form a government after the election you have [failed too].”
While Netanyahu is still prime minister, the panelists explained, the fact that he didn’t outright win a second election means his influence over the country has been weakened. Coalition talks could result in someone else trying to form a government, maybe Gantz, or maybe another Likud leader. Either way, this could be the end of Netanyahu, they said.
There will be fallout in the 2020 U.S. election
The fallout from Israel’s elections may have a huge influence on the upcoming 2020 election. President Donald Trump has already begun his re-election campaign. But during his presidency, he has relied on the assistance of Netanyahu.
Michael Koplow, policy director of Israel Policy Forum, said that Netanyahu’s failure to be re-elected may lead Trump to dump the Israeli leader.
“The only thing Trump likes more than having ice cream and everybody else’s dinner is being associated with a winner,” Koplow said. “So I’m not sure he’s going to be willing to stick his neck out to help out Netanyahu now.”
April’s election was a wake-up call
April’s election was the first time in Israel’s history that the prime minister failed to form a government. Rather than let the leader of another party try to build a coalition, Netanyahu pushed through legislation to dissolve Knesset and hold another election.
Arab voters, who had been targeted by Netanyahu to try and prevent them from voting, hit back at the ballot box. And four Arab-dominated parties combined into a single list, winning 13 seats, making it the third largest party in the Knesset.
“One shift that we saw was in the Arab sector where [Israel] had a significant increase in turnout partly in response to this racist campaign,” Coffman Wittes said.
Many Likud supporters did not appear to show up to the polls, she added.
“It suggests that even Likud voters are getting sick of the status quo,” she said.
If Gantz is successful in forming a national unity government with Likud, Koplow said, the Likud party could start to break apart.
“I find [Netanyahu] isn’t going to be able to form of a Likud
“I find [Netanyahu] isn’t going to be able to form of a Likud government in all likelihood,” he said, “I don’t think anyone beside [Netanyahu and his family] are willing to go to a third election this year.”