By Zachary Ainbinder-Barkley
With all of the votes counted, it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will once again become Israel’s Prime Minister. This comes a year and a half after Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett formed a coalition that sent the 12-year incumbent to the opposition.
Because of the split of the Joint List, an Arab unity party that consisted of Balad and Hadash-Ta’al in previous elections, along with the decision to keep Labor and Meretz as separate, political analysts predicted that a Netanyahu-led government would be more plausible than in previous elections.
Below are the final Knesset election results. The parties in italics are part of Netanyahu’s bloc, while those underlined parties are included in Lapid’s Bloc. Ayman Odeh’s Hadash-Ta’al is part of neither bloc. The names in parentheses indicate the respective party leaders.
Likud (Netanyahu) – 32
Yesh Atid (Lapid) – 24
Religious Zionism (Smotrich, Ben Gvir) – 14
National Unity (Gantz, Sa’ar) – 12
Shas (Deri) – 11
United Torah Judaism (Gafni) – 7
Yisrael Beiteinu (Lieberman) – 6
Ra’am (Abbas) – 5
Hadash-Ta’al (Odeh) – 5
Labor (Michaeli) – 4
Meretz* (Gal-On) – 0
Balad* (Abu Shahadeh) – 0
Jewish Home* (Shaked)– 0
Meretz, Balad, and Jewish Home have all failed to reach the election threshold of 3.25%, and will not receive any seats in the Knesset. These parties have collected 3.19%, 3.03%, and 1.16% of the national vote, respectively. The failure of Balad and Meretz to cross the election threshold paved a firm path for Netanyahu to form a coalition. This resulted in the Netanyahu bloc receiving 64 seats in Knesset to Lapid’s 51 seats.
Now that the votes have been confirmed, the next official step is for President Isaac Herzog to charge Netanyahu with the task of forming a coalition. This involves negotiating the appointment of MKs (Members of Knesset) to serve in his cabinet and lead different ministries. Netanyahu will have 30 days to form a coalition. If Netanyahu fails, he can ask for a 30-day extension, or Lapid will have to form a coalition. If Lapid were to be unsuccessful, there would be a sixth round of elections. Given the number of seats that Netanyahu’s bloc has, these final two scenarios are highly unlikely.
Each party in the coalition will have MKs serve as ministers in the government. The bigger influence that a party has in the bloc, the bigger its portfolio of demands will be. With Likud having 32 of the bloc’s 64 seats, the smaller parties will have plenty of leverage over Netanyahu.
Several of Netanyahu’s close allies in his party, Likud, are yearning for prominent ministry posts. MKs Yariv Levin and David Amsalem, who were placed high on Likud’s slate list (at number two and five, respectively), both seek the position of Minister of Justice, much to the dismay of Bezalel Smotrich, a leader of the Religious Zionist Party.
Both leaders of the Religious Zionist Party, Itamar Ben Gvir and Smotrich, have demanded portfolios for defense, justice, finance, and transportation. Netanyahu has publicly expressed interest in Ben Gvir, who currently leads the Otzma Yehudit Party (Hebrew for Jewish Power), to head the Ministry of Public Security. This position oversees Israel’s prison service and police. If Ben Gvir receives this ministerial position, he would oversee security at the Temple Mount, along with other disputed sites in the nation. When Smotrich was the Minister of Transportation from 2019 to 2020, he ended up spending an unusually heavy amount of money on infrastructure in the West Bank. This heavy investment helps support the settlements in the disputed region.
As for Shas, the Sephardic Haredi party, there is a slightly smaller portfolio. Aryeh Deri, their leader, is likely to demand posts overseeing the Interior Ministry and Religious Affairs Ministry. (Source claim) These posts have been held by Shas under previous Netanyahu governments. The Ashkenazi Haredi party, United Torah Judaism is speculated to demand the Construction and Housing Ministry Portfolio, along with Finance.
Under Netanyahu’s new government, there will be a lot of drastic changes from Lapid and Bennett’s coalition government.
While the ministries that the ultra-orthodox are not out of the ordinary, this is the first time that we have seen Netanyahu on the political fringes of his own government, potentially weakening his authority. With Ben Gvir center stage, many global actors are taking notice. On the Thursday following the elections, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed to Lapid “his deep concern over the situation in the West Bank, including heightened tensions, violence and loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives, and underscored the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation,” per a statement from Spokesman Ned Price. It is also apparent that Israeli relations with Amman are going to become tenser. Kan 11 reported on Sunday evening that if Ben Gvir were to make a visit to the Temple Mount as a minister, rather than as an MK, or if there was any change to the status quo, there would be consequences for bilateral relations. Any action that would upset Jordan, who still has custodial authority over the Temple Mount, would also put Israeli relations with the Abraham Accord states in jeopardy.
With the pieces of Netanyahu’s coalition puzzle beginning to fall into place, only time will tell how influential the Religious Zionist platform will be. Smotrich’s and Ben Gvir’s views that target LGBT, Arab, and secular communities, along with reforms to the Justice system are sounding alarms by democracy watchdogs worldwide. The decisions made by Netanyahu's "monster of his own making", will not only significantly shift policy in the Knesset and the Judiciary. There will also be serious implications for Israel and its critical role as the sole democracy in the Middle East.
Zachary Ainbinder-Barkley is a third-year student at American University, where he serves as the editor-in-chief of Student Israelity, a non-partisan, student-run blog under the umbrella of the Center for Israel Studies. Zachary is currently an undergraduate candidate in the School of International Service (SIS) and focuses on Foreign Policy & Conflict Resolution in the Middle East & North Africa. Zachary has been avidly studying Israeli history and politics for years. Outside of SIS and Student Israelity, Zachary has experience on Capitol Hill as a legislative intern and fellow, along with being a researcher at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy in Herzliya, Israel.