Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Knesset elections solve nothing

Though Israelis have just gone to the polls, already we can see, in the makeup of numerous Knesset blocs, the makings of government paralysis and early new elections, writes Mohamed Gomaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a neck-to-neck race and amidst flaring tempers, salvoes of mudslinging from all sides and last-minute bids to win votes, polls opened in Israel Tuesday to elect the 20th Knesset.

Regardless of the composition of the new government, we can already be certain that it will not last long. We can reasonably assume that it will be plagued by internal crises and that Israelis should start preparing for the 21st Knesset elections in 2017.

The foregoing prediction is based on the nature of the circumstances surrounding Tuesday’s polls. Observers expect, with a high degree of certainty, that the forthcoming parliament will contain, from day one, at least ten blocs and lack a significantly large one.

This means that to have a chance of winning a convincing vote of confidence, any prospective cabinet will require a coalition between at least seven blocs. That each of these blocs is bound to have its own separate agenda reinforces the impression that whatever government is formed will be totally paralysed, as previous experience in Israel has taught us.

The last time parliamentary elections were held at their appointed time was in 1988. Of the 19 previous Knessets, only five managed to complete their full legal term of four years. A surplus of representation brings a delicate deficiency in stability.


INGRAINED CONFLICTS: Calls for early elections are a reflection of deeply rooted conflicts in Israeli society. At the centre of all is the conflict between secularists and religious conservatives. Secularists fear that religious conservatives will become the majority of Jews in Israel within less then a decade.

The Netanyahu government, which had collapsed, symbolised the most salient convergence and collaboration between two “whales”: big money that favours a form of rampant capitalism that has been abandoned in most other major capitalist countries, and the far right.

But that far right, which falls under the “Zionist religious” trend, was convinced that it had the chance to advance the bulk of its agenda. Its moves toward this end triggered an eruption of internal tensions and augmented the secularists’ anxieties for a future in which, according to academic research, religious conservatives and hardliners will dominate and make life increasingly difficult for secularists.

For the moment, Israel is escaping from such crises into early elections, although opinion polls indicate that they will only usher in further fragmentation. This will compound the difficulties of creating a new government, in view of the absence of a large parliamentary bloc such as those that existed before 1992.

In other words, judging by initial signs of the polling results, the decision to raise the electoral threshold. The threshold, the minimum share of the vote that enables a party to secure parliamentary representation, was raised from two per cent in the 2013 elections to 3.25 per cent in the 2015 elections.

The first was to reduce the number of parliamentary blocs. From day one, however, it was clear that only one less list would be able to clear the new threshold than the number of lists that cleared the lower threshold two years ago.

The second purpose of raising the threshold was to undermine the parliamentary prospects of Israeli Arabs who had united in a single joint list. But if opinion polls prove accurate, they will form the third largest force in the 20th Knesset with 12 to 14 seats.

 We should note here that the decision of Arab parties to form a single electoral list is a new development, unprecedented before this year’s elections. Since around 1996, the Arab public in Israel was represented in Knesset elections by three lists. Clearly, the move to raise the electoral threshold had galvanised Arab parties into joining forces and in taking this step they caused a measure that was intended to further marginalise Israeli Arabs to backfire against the Israeli establishment. Moreover, if voter turnout among this community reaches 75 per cent, the Arabs could win as many as 15 seats. This would significantly alter the balances between parliamentary blocs and, ultimately, reduce the margin of manoeuvrability for the extreme right and, hence, its prospects for remaining in power.


THE MAP OF THE 20TH KNESSET: As of time of writing, all opinion polls indicate that only two contenders stand a chance of reaching the 20 seat threshold: the Likud and the Zionist Camp. The former is expected to win 22 to 24 seats and stands the best chances of becoming the party to form the next government, in view of its coalition base. The Zionist Camp is a coalition between the Labour Party, headed by Isaac Herzog, which had 15 seats in the last Knesset, and the Hatnuah (Our Movement) Party headed by Tzipi Livni that had six seats in the last Knesset. Livni had broken away from Kadima, the party that she had previously headed, in order to form Hatnuah in November 2012. In the lead-up to the elections, the Zionist Camp suddenly leapt forward in opinion polls leading to predictions that it could win 23 to 25 seats. Although this could make it a rival candidate for forming the next government, its prospects for this are weak, as the religious parties have made it clear that they are closer to the Likud than to the Zionist Camp.

The Likud and Zionist Camp are followed in the race by the Joint List, the Jewish Home list, and the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) list, each of which is likely to win more than 10 seats. As noted above, the Joint List ¾

 (AFP) -Israel's Central Elections Committee on Thursday published a list of the results of this week's snap elections for the 20th Knesset, or parliament. Here are some key figures:

Israelis eligible to vote: 5,878,362
Number who voted: 4,253,336
Turnout: 72.3% (67.79% in 2013)
Disqualified votes: 43,869
Valid votes: 4,209,467
Votes for parties which did not pass the 3.25% threshold: 136,808
Votes equivalent to one seat: 33,482
Women MPs: 28 (highest number ever, 27 in outgoing Knesset)
Arab MPs 16 (highest number ever, 12 in outgoing Knesset)
First-time MPs: 40

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