No third-time-lucky in Israel

After two elections last Saturday in which thresholds were very important, yesterday in Israel they played, unusually, no role at all. As expected, eight tickets reached the required 3.25%, all of them comfortably – Yamina, with 5.0%, was the closest – and no-one else was anywhere near it. So score one point at least for stability.

(Official figures are here, in Hebrew; Google translate will give you a reasonable approximation to the party names. Results are not yet final and may change by a seat or two either way.)

The 3.25% threshold was introduced in 2014 in an attempt to weed out the Arab or non-Zionist parties. Instead it has proved to be a substantial own goal: the threat of missing out impelled the non-Zionist parties to unite in a single ticket, the Joint List, which has attracted record support. On the latest figures it has 13.1% of the vote and 16 of the 120 seats, up 2.5% and three seats on last September.

That’s a morale boost for the Palestinians, but it’s not clear how much practical effect it will have. It’s accompanied by a further decline on the traditional left, with Labor-Gesher-Meretz winning only 5.7% and seven seats, down 3.4% and four seats on what its component parts managed last time.

The centre-right Blue & White alliance, the main opposition to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also failed to make up ground: its vote is up by just 0.4%, to 26.3%, for a probable 32 seats (down one). Netanyahu’s Likud got back ahead of it, although not by as much as it seemed in early counting: it’s up by 4.1% and three seats to 29.2% and 35 seats, recovering some of the ground that it lost in September.

For all that, the underlying arithmetic hasn’t really changed. The secular far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, with its 5.9% (down 1.1%) and seven seats (down one), still holds the balance between Netanyahu and his partners on the one hand, with a total of 48.2% and 58 seats, and the combined opposition (Blue & White + Joint List + Labor-Gesher-Meretz) on the other, with 45.3% and 55 seats.

It has to be said that this is an impressive achievement for a man who goes on trial in a fortnight for high-level corruption. As I’ve remarked before, no-one should underestimate Netanyahu’s political skills. Nonetheless, at the third attempt he remains short of a majority.

Something has to change before a government can be formed. Either Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu has to decide that he can live with the fundamentalists after all, or Blue & White that it can accept Netanyahu’s terms for a coalition, or Likud that its leader is expendable, or the fundamentalist parties that it would suit their interests to switch to Blue & White.

Any of these is possible – my guess is that the last is the most likely. Or there may be yet more exotic options. But don’t expect a resolution any time soon.

 

POSTSCRIPT (10.15am Wednesday, Israeli time): There has been some more counting today; I don’t know how much more there is to go, but there can’t be a lot since the total counted amounts to 70.7% of enrolled voters, which is already ahead of last September’s turnout (69.8%).

Nothing substantial has changed. Likud and Blue & White have each improved very slightly, up to 29.5% and 26.5% respectively. That would be enough to net them each an extra seat compared to the totals given above, at the expense of the Joint List (down to 15) and United Torah Judaism (down to seven). The seat totals for the two blocs would therefore be unchanged.

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