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Israeli Election 2021

The polls are now closed.

The Israeli election has just ended, the polls have closed. At the moment all three of the Israeli television networks’ news programs have given a slight edge to Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. The three channels predict, based to the exit polls, 31 seats for the Likud and 61 seats for Netanyahu’s right wing block.

But this depends on what the right wing Yamina Party does. Netanyahu needs it to form a new government. The polls show it getting 6 or 7 seats. A disappointing finish for a party which polled as high as 12 seats not that long ago. But the big surprises of the evening went to the left wing Meretz Party and the center parties New Hope and Blue and White. Benny Gantz, Israel’s current minister of defense, led his party to a stunning seven seats in the next Knesset. This after the polls recently showed the Blue and White Party on the edge of failing to pass the minimum 3.25% minimum vote threshold to get into the Knesset.

Another stunner is the Meretz Party which could end up with as many as seven seats as well. This Party was expected to barely make it past the minimum threshold, if at all. The Labor Party is also expected to get seven seats. The Labor and Meretz ran a joint list in the last elections and only gained seven seats in total. So now, running separately again, they have doubled their representation.

And now for the big losers. First is Gideon Saar’s New Hope Party. Saar was once a star in the Likud Party and thought to be its future leader. But Binyamin Netanyahu does not like it when people get to be popular enough to challenge him. So the two men clashed and Saar eventually left the party.

This year he established a new party which leapt out from the starting get neck and neck with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party. Some polls early on showed it getting as many as 20 seats. Today it is expected to finish with just six seats. There will surely be a great deal of speculation on the part of political analysis in the coming days explaining why this happened.

But the biggest loser is the Arab Ra’am Party. In the last elections it ran on a joint list with three other parties called simply Joint List. Together they gained 15 seats. Today they Ra’am Party failed to pass the threshold while running independently. At the moment the Joint List is at best predicted to get 9 seats in total. So the Arab parties are looking at a net loss of 6 seats. These seats obviously went over to the smaller parties which did pass the threshold.

This is because the current estimates are based on the distribution of seats in the next Knesset after all the votes which went to parties that failed to pass the threshold are discounted. The more of such votes – called wasted votes in Israel – there are, the more seats end up going to other parties.

So what happens now? Well, we wait. First it will take at least until tomorrow night to get the final vote totals. Then we will know if Netanyahu can form a government. And then he will still need Naftali Bennet’s support.

So in spite of his failing to grow his party’s representation from the six seats it currently holds, Naftali Bennet is still in a great position to make demands of Netanyahu. The other parties aligned with the Likud have nowhere else to go. Yair Lapid is not likely to give in to any of the demands of Israel’s ultra-orthodox parties which currently look to get at least 15 seats between them, even if they should abandon Netanyahu. And Bennet does not have enough seats to give the anti-Netanyahu block a government without the Arab Joint List. His party is right-wing and so it is unlikely they would sit together in any coalition.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Photo Gil Yohanan)

Interestingly, the Likud stands to lose as many as five seats from its current total of 36. Yet the two parties Blue and White and Yesh Atid, which ran together in 2020, may get as many as 27 seats between them this time. Add to that the six seats gained by the new anti-Netanyahu party New Hope and the three parties together may have more total seats than in 2020

Do not look for Yvette Lieberman to bring his Israel Our Home Party’s seven seats into a Netanyahu government. He stood by his pledge not to join a Netanyahu government the last three times. He did so a year ago even after Benny Gantz broke his no Netanyahu pledge and joined the Likud led government. He did so even after Amir Peretz broke his promise not to take his Labor Party into a Netanyahu government.

And don’t expect Gideon Saar to join Netanyahu either. Both he and Lieberman saw what happened the last time to Gantz and Peretz when they broke their promises. To date, both Gantz and Peretz have probably heard countless people tell them an innumerous number of times “told you so!”

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