Israel is experiencing its fifth election cycle in three and a half years. The contest is once again centered around the character of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for bribery and breach of trust charges. He will try to gain a majority in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, after failing to do so in the last 4 election cycles.
This election is happening in the aftermath of the Bennett-Lapid coalition, which was composed of 8 parties that came together to bring Netanyahu out of office. Also, for the first time in Israel’s history, it included an Arab party, Ra’am. Bennett, once a settler leader, joined the center left after he figured that he wouldn’t be able to bring Netanyahu to the majority (the Netanyahu block had 59 seats with him, short of the 61 needed). Additionally, the far right Religious Zionism party didn’t allow Netanyahu to join forces with the more moderate Arab faction Ra’am, which went with the Lapid – Bennett coalition eventually.
The Lapid-Bennet coalition was able to pass a budget, in itself an achievement. However, because of the diversity of opinions within it, it wasn’t able to pass major reforms. Eventually, the coalition lost its thin majority in the Knesset because MKs from Bennet’s right-wing faction and the Meretz and Ra’am left-wing factions became increasingly independent and sometimes went against the coalition for various reasons. At the onset of this election cycle, Bennett fulfilled the rotation agreement and handed the prime minister position to Lapid. Bennett also retired from politics, in part because of the loss of his right wing base that was opposed to the coalition in the first place.
The main issue during this election cycle is the cost of living crisis, as Israel is dealing with heightened inflation. Netanyahu tries to cater to people who are most affected by the phenomenon, advocating for free kindergartens from age 0-3 in order to help families. Also, the Shas faction in his block started advocating for an Israeli version of food stamps.
Security is also front and center. There are constant tensions in the west bank, with terror attacks on Israeli civilians happening regularly in that region. In addition, prime minister Lapid has signed a controversial agreement with Lebanon regarding territorial waters without passing it in the Knesset. The right is trying to challenge the agreement, turning to Israel’s supreme court.
In terms of polling, the Netanyahu block is getting 60–62 seats. 61 seats would guarantee him a majority and probably a stable government. This government would be able to change Israel in many respects. The Religious Zionism faction in Netanyahu’s bloc laid out its plan for the justice system a few days ago. The plan includes canceling the breach of trust charge, which will help Netanyahu with his trial. It also includes changing the makeup of the committee that appoints justices, giving a majority to politicians. The Religious Zionism faction is much more powerful in this election, polling at 13-14 seats, up from 6 seats in the 2021 election. This faction includes Itamar Ben-Gvir’s “Jewish Power” party. Ben Gvir once identified as a supporter of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the “Kach” movement. This movement is labled as a terrorist organization by Israel and is barred from running to the Knesset.
In the case that none of the blocs gets a majority, the Netanyahu bloc would probably try to lure moderate lawmakers from the center left bloc, offering them massive perks in return and the prevention of yet another election cycle. If the center left bloc gets 61 seats with the Arab faction Hadash – Ta’al, Lapid will try to form a coalition, although he will have very little chance of succeeding because of the vast differences between the parties.
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