Israelis are voting to elect a new parliament today, on March 2. This is the third election to the Knesset in less than a year, the last two being held in April and September of last year. According to public opinion surveys, no party or coalition is expected to win a majority yet again.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party-led coalition is leading in the opinion polls. The main opposition led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White is expected to get support from a range of parties including the left-wing Labour and Meretz. However, together they are expected to get only 56-57 seats. The majority mark the 120-seat Knesset is 61 seats.
The coalition of ultra-right-wing parties which includes Shas and United Torah Judaism, among others, is also expected to fall short of a majority, with 56 to 58 seats. They had won 56 seats in the previous September elections. As a single party, Likud is likely to outperform Blue and White by a slight margin. The latter had won more seats than Likud in the last elections.
The Arab joint list is expected to emerge as the third largest party in the Knesset with 14-15 seats. As per surveys, a large number of traditional left voters are expected to vote for the Joint Arab List in the current elections.
The shift is being attributed to the ideological compromises made by the Israeli left parties in the last few years. Left parties such as Meretz and Labour have failed to counter the religious discourse that has taken center stage in the country’s politics, with policies such as the Jewish National Law gaining support from almost all political formations in the Knesset except the Arab parties. The Jewish National Law declares Israel as a Jewish country and pushes Arabs to a position of second-class citizen. The traditional left in Israel had historically pitched for a secular polity in Israel.
It is likely that the Avigdor Lieberman-led Yisrael Beytenu will again emerge as the key for government formation by winning 6-7 seats. In the last two elections it has refused to support any coalition for different reasons. The party is opposed to Netanyahu’s leadership and the inclusion of religious parties in his coalition. However, Lieberman is also averse to supporting a coalition which is supported by the Arab Joint list.