Israel Snap Parliamentary Elections (Take 4): March 23, 2021

Voting in Jaffa during Israel’s 2013 elections. Photo credit: Flickr/Noam Moskovich/The Israel Project (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Freedom House Rating

Government Type
Parliamentary Republic
8.4 million
Snap Parliamentary Elections
March 23, 2021
Municipal Elections
October 2023 (due)
Snap Parliamentary Elections
March 2, 2020
Snap Parliamentary Elections
September 17, 2019
Snap Parliamentary Elections
April 9, 2019
Municipal Elections
October 30, 2018

On March 23, 2021, Israel held its fourth general election in two years.

Political Context

A Series of Snap Elections in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office since 2009 (and previously served from 1996-1999). The original April 2019 elections were themselves early as elections had originally been due in November. However, a dispute over military service for the ultra-Orthodox community and strain due to Netanyahu’s corruption charges caused the government to fall early, prompting snap elections.

The 2020 elections happened because Netanyahu’s center-right Likud was unable to form a coalition following the original April 2019 elections. Therefore, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for new elections rather than giving former IDF chief Benny Gantz and his newly-formed centrist coalition, Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), the chance to try to form a government. Following the collapse of the Labor Party – once the single most important party in the country – Blue and White became the main challenger to Likud.

Following the 2020 elections, Netanyahu and Gantz struck a deal to share power, and a unity government – with an unprecedented 36 ministers – was sworn in in May 2020. However, the coalition collapsed inDecember 2020 after failing to pass a budget. As a result, the country will hold new elections on March 23, 2021.

The 2021 Elections in Israel: Fourth Elections in Two Years

The elections took place in the context of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which he has sought to delay. Some argued that the upcoming elections are mostly a referendum on Netanyahu, and the usual right/left divide is not as relevant.

This year, Netanyahu faced a new challenge from Gideon Saar, a former Likud minister who has launched a new party, New Hope, that will contest the elections. Saar’s party ran on a platform of restoring honest, competent government while keeping the right in power.

Results Update

Likud and its allies won 52 seats, so nine seats short of a majority. Anti-Netanyahu parties also fell short of a majority, winning 57 seats. Likud itself fell from 36 seat to 30. So the parties are going to have to get creative if anyone is going to succeed in forming a government.

The two top contenders for PM are Netanyahu (again) or opposition leader Yair Lapid from the centrist Yesh Atid party. Two potential kingmakers – Naftali Bennett from the conservative Yamina and Mansour Abbas from the Islamist Ra’am (United Arab List) – have not to date (April 1) revealed who they’ll back for PM. If Ra’am joins the governing coalition, it will be the first time in history that an Arab party has been part of the Israeli government.

Netanyahu Gets the First Crack at Forming a Government

On April 6, President Reuven Rivlin invited Netanyahu to try to form a government. He has 28 days to put together a coalition (remember, he needs 60 seats – and his Likud only has 30). If he fails, Rivlin can invite another person to try to form a government, or refer the matter back to parliament. Axios’s Barak Ravid says that if Netanyahu can’t do it, the next most likely scenarios are either a Bennett-Lapid coalition, or a fifth election.

Watch this space for updates.

Geopolitical Context

Israel lives in a rough neighborhood, which makes its geopolitical situation complicated. For instance, rocket attacks from Gaza are frequent. Nonetheless, Israel has diplomatic relations with the majority of the world’s countries – including its neighbors Jordan and Egypt.

Netanyahu expanded Israel’s worldwide diplomatic presence. Most recently, several Arab states have normalized relations with Israel.

Curated News and Analysis

Isabel Kershner, New York Times (April 6, 2021): Netanyahu gets first crack at forming new government in Israel

Barak Ravid, Axios (April 6, 2021): Israel’s election: Ideological foes weigh pact to oust Netanyahu

Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post (April 1, 2021): Kingmakers Bennett, Abbas leave both sides in the dark

Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz (March 25, 2021): Israel election results: How Netanyahu lost, and why he might still win

Steve Hendrix, Washington Post (March 25, 2021): Netanyahu has no clear path to remain prime minister, official Israeli election results show

Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post (March 24, 2021): Israel Elections: Sa’ar: I won’t sit in a Netanyahu led government

Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon, New York Times (March 24, 2021): Israel’s election ended in another mess. Could an Arab party break the deadlock?

Josef Federman, AP (March 22, 2021): Israeli election seen as referendum on divisive Netanyahu

Raf Sanchez, NBC News (March 22, 2021): Israeli elections: Trump no longer the centerpiece of Netanyahu’s bid for power

Barak Ravid and Dave Lawler, Axios (March 22, 2021): Israel’s election is a big opportunity for Netanyahu

Steve Hendrix, Washington Post (March 16, 2021): As Israelis head back to elections, there’s a new twist: Democrats in Washington

Tania Kraemer, DW (March 16, 2021): Israeli Labor Party looks to new leader as elections loom

Anchal Vohra, Foreign Policy (March 8, 2021): Israel Is the Arab World’s New Soft Power

Andrew Parasiliti, Elizabeth Hagedorn, and Joe Snell, Al-Monitor (March 3, 2021): The Takeaway: Iran looms over Israel’s March 23 elections

Alon Pinkas, Haaretz (February 17, 2021): The Idiot’s Guide to Israel’s Idiotic Election, Part II: The Seinfeld Factor

Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post (February 11, 2021): Israel Election 2021: Who is running and what do you need to know?

Barak Ravid, Axios (February 10, 2021): Netanyahu tries to delay corruption hearings until after Israel’s election

Michael Koplow, World Politics Review (January 19, 2021): In Upcoming Israeli Elections, Netanyahu Faces a New and Potent Threat

Daniel Estrin, NPR (December 22, 2020): Israel To Hold 4th Election In 2 Years As Coalition Fails To Pass Budget

AP (May 15, 2020): After 3 elections, Israel finally has a government

The Economist (February 29, 2020): Will Israel’s third election in a year finally produce a government? The polls predict more deadlock

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