What to Expect From Israel’s Election Re-Run

Can Netanyahu Unite the Right?

Netanyahu speaks to reporters at the Knesset after failing to form a coalition government, May 2019 Ronen Zvulun / REUTERS

At the end of May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shocked Israel by calling for new national elections after he failed to form a governing coalition. Commentators dubbed the unprecedented new poll “Mo’ed B,” literally, a second scheduled date. The term also implies a second chance at success.

Despite failing to win a majority in the April elections, Israeli opposition parties of the center and the left didn’t seem to want a re-run; most of their lawmakers voted against the new elections. Ironically, it was the right-wing parties, who won a comfortable 65 seats (out of a total of 120), that voted themselves out of office. They clearly think they can do better. They may be right.

For over a decade, polling has repeatedly shown that center and left-wing voters make up less than half of the Israeli electorate. In a survey conducted just before the April elections, 41 percent of all voters identified as centrist or left wing, while 50 percent identified as right wing. This includes Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population and vote mostly for Arab or left-wing Jewish parties, but who turn out at significantly lower rates than Jews. Election results therefore generally reflect the more right-wing tilt of Jewish Israeli voters.  

In short, there are not enough centrists and left-wingers to replace Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Even a small wave of activity among the opposition camp—the recent return to politics of former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, primary elections that brought new leaders to both the Labor party and the left-wing Meretz, and the re-unification of two Arab parties—will mean little if voters just shift within the left and center. What happens in the next election will depend primarily on right-wing voters.

But predicting what they’ll do is tricky. Israeli elections routinely prompt parties to emerge, merge, split, and collapse, generating too many uncertainties to forecast anything reliably before the August 2 deadline for finalizing party lists. The best place to

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