According to Israeli law a new government has 100 days to pass a budget. In August 2020, a compromise law was passed that extended the deadline for another three months. That deadline finally expired and the Knesset disolved on December 22, 2020. A new election, the fourth in less than two years, will be held on March 23, 2021.
The runup to the election saw a great deal of upheaval as new parties emerged, existing ones disintegrated, and mergers were contemplated and abandoned. Several parties, including Labor and Bayit Yehudi, elected new party leaders. The political situation was further clouded by the coronavirus pandemic and Netanyahu’s legal predicament.
The biggest story was the collapse of Kahol Lavan. After winning 33 seats in the last election, Benny Gantz lost support when he reneged on a campaign promise not to serve in a government with Netanyahu. The party began hemorrhaging as members defected to other parties and the number two on the part list, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, announced he would not run for re-election. Gantz, who was supposed to become prime minister in the coalition rotation agreement, appeared on the verge of losing his party and Knesset seat.
Moshe Ya’alon also decided to drop out of the race after running with Blue and White in three elections. He left the party after Gantz joined the coalition with Netanyahu. Polls showed his Telem Party also was unlikely to reach the electoral threshold.
In the first of several shifts in the constellation of parties, one of Netanyahu’s chief rivals, Gideon Sa’ar, left Likud to form his own party called
Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa announced in December 2020 he was forming the Hayisralim (“The Israelis”) Party, which was described as left-wing and center-left. The new party was initially bolstered by the decision of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to leave Kahol Lavan to join Huldai. Polls indicated, however, the new party might not reach the electoral threshold to win seats in the Knesset and Nissenkorn announced he decided to take “a break from political life.”
As the deadline for registering party lists approached, several parties discussed alliances and officials continued to change parties. Former Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari, for example, jumped to Yesh Atid, as did Kahol Lavan’s Social Equality Minister Merav Cohen. Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi entered the national fray as a member of Yamina.
Looking at the polls and the prospects for joining a coalition led to a flurry of last-minute decisions. Trailing in the polls, Huldai withdrew his party. The Jewish Home Party chose to drop out and support Yamina on condition that party leader Hagit Moshe be appointed a minister if Naftali Bennett joined the government. This is the first time in Israeli history the Jewish Home, or its predecessor, the National Religious Party, will not run in an election.
Netanyahu gave MK Ofir Sofer from the Religious Zionism Party the number 28 slot on the Likud list, but he planned to return to his party after the election. Netanyahu also, for the first time, added a Muslim candidate, Nael Zoubi, to the number 39 position on the list.
A total of 39 parties submitted lists, but with the threshold of 3.25%, the equivalent of four seats, it was likely that no more than eight or ten would be represented in the next Knesset.
On February 21, the Central Elections Committee is scheduled to approve the party lists.
The election will be held on March 23.
The official results be delivered to the president on March 31.
The 24th Knesset is scheduled to hold its opening session on April 6, 2021.
April 7 is the final date by which the president must give one of the party leaders the opportunity to try to form a government.
1 Gideon Sa’ar
1 Yair Lapid
2. Yaakov Margi
3. Yoav Ben Tzur
4. Michael Malkieli
5. Chaim Bitton
6. Moshe Arbel
7. Yinon Azoulay
8. Moshe Abutbul
9. Uriel Busso
10. Yosef Taieb
11. Avraham Bezalel
12. Netanel Haik
1 Nitzan Horowitz
1 Bezalel Smotrich
1. Merav Michaeli
United Torah Judaism
1. Mansour Abbas
|Party||Seats||Total Vote||% of Total|
|Blue and White||8||292,257||6.63%|
|United Torah Judaism||7||248,391||5.63%|
|TOTAL VALID VOTES||4,410,052|
While Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most votes, his potential coalition partners did not do well enough to ensure he can form a government. The pro-Netanyahu bloc, which includes Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Religious Zionism won a total of 52 seats while the anti-Netanyahu bloc of Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, New Hope, Meretz, and the Joint List won 57 of the 61 needed to form a government.
The two uncommitted parties are Yamina, which leans right, and the United Arab List, which leans far left. No Israeli government has ever included an Arab party, and it is unlikely Netanyahu or his rivals would do so now. If you take away the Joint List then from the anti-Netanyahu bloc, it drops to 51. Unless there are enough defections from one or more parties or, as in the last election, one of the anti-Netanyahu parties agrees to join him in a coalition, neither side can form a government without at least one of the Arab parties. This leads to the likely conclusion that Israel will have to go to a fifth election with Netanyahu remaining prime minister.
Party leaders meet with President Reuven Rivlin on April 5 to recommend their preferred candidate for prime minister. Rivlin will then announce who will be given the mandate to form the next government, and the chance to become premier, based on whom he assesses has the best chance of doing so. Initially, it looked as though that would be Netanyahu since Likud won the most votes; however, as the date approached Lapid seemed closer to building a coalition and leaders of several of the anti-Netanyahu parties indicated they would ask Rivlin to give him the first shot at obtaining 61 votes. Whoever Rivlin chooses will have 28 days to secure a majority.
Despite jockeying by the major players, no one could put together the 61 mandates needed to form a government before President Rivlin had to decide on who should get the first crack at officially building a coalition. Rivlin said he did not believe any candidate had a realistic chance of doing so, but felt obligated to give Netanyahu the first shot because he received the endorsements of 52 lawmakers compared to 45 for Lapid. He has until May 4 to form a government, but he can request a two-week extension. Rivlin then can give someone else, most likely Lapid, a chance to form a government or leave it to the Knesset, which would then have 21 days to organize a coalition before a fifth election would automatically be scheduled.
Sources: Jonathan Lis and Chaim Levinson, “The Knesset Dissolves; Israelis Will Return to the Polls on March 23,” Haaretz, (December 23, 2020).
Gideon Sa’ar, Wikipedia.
Raoul Wootliff, “Tel Aviv mayor to form new left-wing party to run in March elections,” .Times of Israel, (December 28, 2020).
“Veteran Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai launches new center-left party, ‘The Israelis,’” Times of Israel, (December 29, 2020).
Jonathan Lis, “Tel Aviv Mayor Announces New Party Running in Upcoming Israeli Election,” Haaretz, (December 30, 2020).
Yossi Verter, “The Slow Fraying of Gantz’s Party Has Turned Into a Panicked Flight,” Haaretz, (December 30, 2020).
Amy Spiro, “Deadline for Israeli party registration looms this week,” JewishInsider, (February 1, 2021).
“Parties submit their lists for March election,” BICOM Morning Brief, (February 8, 2021).
“Israel Election 2021: All the Official Party Slates,” Haaretz, (February 3, 2021).
“Israel Election Results: Lapid, Lieberman Discuss Forming Gov’t,” Haaretz, (March 26, 2021).
Central Elections Committee.
Jonathan Lis, “Israel Election Results: President Rivlin Tasks Netanyahu With Forming Government,” Haaretz, (April 6, 2021).