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Israel elections: Netanyahu’s ‘back’ and what’s in it for India

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No one expected the results of the elections held in Israel on Tuesday to give a clear winner—in its 67-year history no party has won outright majority in the Knesset. With 99% of the votes counted the Likud party, led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has got 29 seats and is five seats ahead of main rival the Zionist Union, led by Issac Herzog, in the Knesset.

If Netanyahu is able to form a government he will be the longest serving PM. Earlier opinion polls projected a neck and neck race between Netanyahu and Herzog.

Netanyahu’s celebration and coalition politics

So why is Nethanyahu, with just about 29 seats in a 120-seat Knesset, popping the bubbly? Thanks to proportional representation seldom does a party gain absolute majority in the House and this time also it seems that Netanyahu will have to stitch a coalition government. Reports state that Netanyahu was quick to call The Jewish Home leader and minister of economy Naftali Bennett, who early trends show winning about eight seats.

Another important member in Netanyahu’s coalition would be Yisrael Beiteinu leader and foreign affairs minister is Avigdor Lieberman. Netanyahu’s tough posturing against Iran and Palestine—he vowed not to grant statehood to Palestine—has brought him ever closer to the Right-wing parties and they are expected to support him.

Herzog has called Netanyahu’s celebration premature, and he might have a point. This is because, given the close margin, unless every vote is counted it’s difficult to be certain.

Given the electoral system followed in Israel, to win seats in the House a party should cross the election threshold of 3.25% of the votes polled. This means that
small parties will hold the cards when the Likud party and the Zionist Union try to form a coalition government.

Small parties like the Meretz and Yahad, if they cross 3.25%, can be deciding factors. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On has called to end Netanyahu’s ‘bad’ reign while far-Right Yahad is likely to back the present PM.

Surprises and key players

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which pollsters have given 9-10 seats has come up as the surprise, and probably the deciding factor, this time. He has staked a claim for the finance portfolio and his role in the previous Likud government for his telecom reforms are widely appreciated.Opinion polls and early results also show the Arab Joint List emerging as the third largest party. It is a coalition of Arab parties in Israel, like the Hadash, Balad, United Arab List, and Ta’al. The Arab Joint List, under the leadership of Ayman Odeh, has vowed to not join any coalition. He is against the Likud but is willing to listen to Herzog.

The electoral system in Israel has not been short in giving surprises. In the 2009 elections the Kadima party surprised everyone by being the largest party in Knesset, winning one seat more than the Likud party—however, Netanyahu was called to form the government. Similarly, the Dor party, a party formed by pensioners, was the surprise package in the 2006 elections—while opinion polls predicted that it would not cross the election threshold, Dor went on to win seven seats.

What’s in it for India?

The result, whichever way it was to go, is unlikely to change India-Israel ties.

Israel ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said, “As I have stated before the elections, the bilateral relations between India and Israel are based on similar democratic values and shared challenges….I’m confident that the strong bond existing between our countries will be strengthened even more.”

“There is a consensus across party lines about good ties with India,” a top Israeli official told the Hindustan Times. He was of the view that Netanyahu returning to power will help both the nations continue the strong ties, especially because of the rapport shared between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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