A guide to Israel’s never-ending elections

Israeli citizens will once again vote on whether to keep Netanyahu in power — and decide just how far right the country will go.

As Israel approaches a fourth election in two years, it may sometimes be difficult to follow who exactly is in the game and what it’s all about. That’s why we thought we’d offer +972 readers a basic guide explaining the options voters will find on the March 23 ballot.

Israel is a multi-party system, and its Knesset is comprised of 120 seats. Votes are tallied proportionally to parties that pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold. Since a single party has never been able to win a majority of seats in parliament, the leader of the slate that gets the most votes is usually tasked with assembling a coalition of at least 61 Knesset members. There are 5.9 million citizens who are eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Of the Palestinians who live under Israeli rule, only around 24 percent have the right to vote in national elections.

The current election revolves around three main axes. The first and most common one focuses on what has become the central question of Israeli politics over the past few years, and the root cause of our repeated elections: Benjamin Netanyahu, yes or no? Israel’s longest serving prime minister is fighting to reach the 61 Knesset seat mark with a strong, far-right coalition that will allow him to pass bills and appoint gatekeepers to cancel his ongoing corruption trial. Right now, most polls don’t have him passing that goalpost.

Another essential angle is the possibility for Jewish-Arab partnership in the Knesset. In the last election, which took place in March 2020, Blue and White’s Benny Gantz had the ability to form a government and finally replace Netanyahu, had he been willing to work together with the Palestinian-led Joint List. The List, which has previously abstained from endorsing a candidate for the premiership, made the historic gesture of recommending him for prime minister. But Gantz chose to turn his back on the Palestinian parties. Instead, he formed a bloated, ineffective government, which — against his very own supporters’ demands — kept Netanyahu at the helm.

That same challenge still stands, as different political players who want to see King Bibi gone are still more committed to their racist agendas, avoiding a Jewish-Arab partnership at all costs, than to getting rid of the prime minister. It is this entanglement — in which neither the pro- nor anti-Bibi camps can reach any kind of majority in parliament — that could lead us to a fifth round of elections.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu himself — who for years has made a career of inflammatory remarks inciting against Palestinian citizens — is trying a new approach in this round of elections. This time, he is portraying himself as a Biden-style “national unifier,” and is turning to Palestinian voters and parties to ask for their support. While the move is a completely cynical attempt to reach that vaunted parliamentary majority, it is yet another testament to just how much political power Palestinian citizens have gained over the past few years.


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