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With Israel voting for the fifth time since 2019, these five factors could break the deadlock

With Israel voting for the fifth time since 2019, these five factors could break the deadlock

Israelis head to polling stations across the country Tuesday to elect the 25th Knesset. The nation’s fifth vote is being held in less than four years as many pollsters have predicted an incredibly tight race between the two blocs in Parliament, with the clear prospect of further stalemate and no bloc grabbing a majority of 61 MPs in the 120-seat parliament to form a government. . .

The front-runners in the government formation campaign are former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his Likud party and his right-wing religious allies, and current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, with the centrist Yesh Atid and its diverse cast of supporting parties, united in large part in opposition to Netanyahu. Another hope is Defense Minister Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity Party, who campaigned as a compromise candidate who could reach through the blocs to find an elusive majority.

Netanyahu’s bloc was the strongest in polls, in the 1950s and up to 61 seats in major network polls. Lapid’s bloc did not get 56 seats in those polls, and he was unable to explain how to form a government if opinion polls prove correct. Alternatively, if those sometimes unreliable polls are accurate, Lapid’s best hope may be to prevent Netanyahu or another candidate from mustering a viable coalition.

Gantz has attempted to present himself as an alternative to both Netanyahu and Lapid, who are inspiring strong opposition from political opponents. However, the coalition constellation eliminating the bloc he proposes includes parties that nurse bitter animosities, and it is unclear how he could achieve the magic number himself.

However, a number of factors hang in the balance that could change the Knesset map predicted by pollsters and analysts. Even a simple change can remove the deadlock and open the path to power for someone contenders.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (left), Defense Minister Benny Gantz (centre) and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (right) (Flash 90)

1. The turnout of the Arab voter

There are three Arab lists competing in the current elections, and their fate may decide the fate of the bloc led by Lapid. With Arab turnout expected to be lower than in previous rounds, Arab voting could become a crucial issue.

The Islamist Ra’am party, a member of the outgoing coalition, will sit with a Lapid or Gantz government, while the Front-Come alliance has historically formed a third wedge of nonaligned seats available to either bloc. Both are hovering close to the electoral threshold and, without a high turnout, could collapse.

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The Palestinian National Assembly is not expected to exceed the 3.25 percent minimum voting threshold regardless, reaching 1.6 percent in the latest Channel 12 poll before the election.

The party in particular is nervous about its prospects, making a rare weekend appeal to Jewish voters to cast a “strategic” vote for the party and ensure it secures at least four seats on Tuesday.

Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh attends the Knesset Internal Security Committee meeting, in Jerusalem, December 13, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

About 17% of the 6.8 million eligible voters in Israel are Arab, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Central Elections Committee. Historically, the Arab community in Israel—including Muslims, Christians, and Druze—has had lower turnout rates than Jewish voters.

In previous elections, Arab turnout fell to an all-time low of just 44%, compared to 72% among Jewish voters and 67% overall. Low voter turnout led to low representation among Arab parties in the Knesset. In 2020, when the four Arab parties fought together in the Joint List, Arab representation reached 15 seats. In 2021, after the withdrawal of the Joint List, only 10 collective seats won among them.

Now that the Joint List has split into the Joint Front and Balad, with the Palestinian National Assembly party continuing to organize a separate campaign, Arab turnout has registered as low as 37% and as high as 48% in recent weeks.

If the Arab-Educational Front fails to return to the Knesset, the Likud-led bloc is expected to benefit proportionately and have a smooth path to power. If both fail, Netanyahu’s prospects will be better.

With both in the Knesset, Lapid will have an opportunity to prevent the formation of another government. Likud asserts that it may even seek a coalition that includes or depends on the front. Both Lapid and Hadash Tal refuted this as a possible scenario.

In the final days of the campaign, some analysts suggested that Arab turnout could be higher than what polls indicated, with Balad likely close to crossing the Knesset’s threshold of 3.25%. Previous elections indicated that respondents had a particular concern when expecting Arabs to vote.

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2. The turnout of ultra-Orthodox voters

Concern about Haredi voter turnout has renewed in recent weeks, as voters aligned with the Ashkenazi Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, have become frustrated with the party’s management, after a year in opposition.

The Judea Totora party currently has seven seats and has been voting to bring that number back. Poor voter turnout or a loss of votes for another right-wing party could bring that number down to six, a scenario that has caused so much consternation in Haredi political circles. However, only if the seat left the block, would it affect the instantaneous inertia.

Haredi voters make up 11% of the electorate, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, and the bulk of their votes go to the United Torah Judaism party and the Mizrahi Haredi Shas party. In the last elections, the turnout of Haredi voters was 80%.

However, public broadcaster Kan reported that by mid-October, the turnout of Haredi voters was expected to drop by 12%.

United Torah Judaism head Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf poses for a photo in Jerusalem, September 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The surge in popularity of Otzma leader Yehudit Itamar Ben Gvir, especially among younger or more ultra-nationalist ultra-Orthodox voters, has also pulled votes away from the party, according to opinion polls.

About 6% of Haredi votes may be drawn to religious Zionism – Otzma Yehudit, according to Kan. This will not change the bloc’s calculus or ability to form a government, but it will alter the power dynamics within that government if the Haredi parties eventually do. Check out the seats.

3. Former right-wing voters are looking for a home

The former ruling party Yamina won seven seats under Naftali Bennett in 2021, and unexpectedly led him to the premiership, but he didn’t even make it to the polls in November. The party solution has created some political refugees.

Nearly a third of Yamina’s voters in March 2021 identify as national religious, and are generally from the moderate, mainstream version of the diverse national religious spectrum. It also drew some of its base from some secular, right-wing and traditional voters.

By contrast, 61% of Religious Zionism’s 2021 voters were religious, and the party is considered to represent the hard-right end of this spectrum.

Ayelet Shaked (center) and Yossi Brodney (right) at the Jewish Home campaign event in Givat Shmuel, September 20, 2022 (Flash90)

Yamina’s legacy is best represented now by Jewish Home and its leader, former Bennett deputy Ayelet Shaked. But the party has struggled consistently in the polls, achieving just 1.5%-2% in the final major network polls over the weekend.

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While many former Yamina voters have immigrated to Religious Zionism or another right- or center-right party, a portion of them are still considering voting for Shaked.

Shaked says Netanyahu needs it to complete the numbers for his government. Netanyahu’s camp claims she is jeopardizing the entire project by burning right-wing votes on her way out of the Knesset.

If voters feel hopeless and give up, they may reduce the right’s lost votes and push Netanyahu closer to a majority. On the other hand, if Shaked exceeds expectations to make it to the Knesset, she might give Netanyahu additional seats — or keep them for him, should she be withdrawn from Likud in the first place.

4. Left parties gnaw on the threshold

The poor performance of two other parties in Lapid’s bloc could tilt Netanyahu’s path in the elections. The left-wing Meretz and the center-left Labor swung near the threshold. Without much movement between the blocs, much of Yesh Atid’s gradual rise in the polls over the months of the campaign has come at the cost of dismantling its left-wing partners. Labor and Meretz engaged in frantic last-minute efforts to persuade voters to come out and vote for them, rather than increase the number of seats Lapid’s Yesh Atid party hopes to secure.

If Labor or Meretz withdraw from the Knesset, polls predict a Netanyahu victory within reach.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli briefly rejected Lapid’s efforts to unite her two parties and Meretz ahead of the September list deadline, preferring to maintain Labor as an independent group over what she saw as a lifeline for Meretz.

Will this decision come back to haunt her?

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, September 14, 2022 (Flash90)

5. And yes, the weather

Perhaps the most common factor, the expected bad weather may limit the willingness of unmotivated voters to head to the polls. So much so, that experts speculate that this may reduce turnout in some areas.

Israelis must vote in person at their designated polling station, except for special circumstances including quarantine, disability or hospitalization related to COVID-19.

On the other hand, the rain across Israel also reduces the allure of going to the beach, hiking, or taking family outings—all activities that historically rival voting duties, with most Israelis enjoying a day off from work.

Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli elections at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham before they are shipped to polling stations, October 12, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)