A Divided Knesset Will Mean Difficulties for Netanyahu

Kate Harsh

Last week, Israeli citizens voted in the elections of the 19th Knesset, with current Prime Minister Netanyahu narrowly winning a majority. While the election was a victory for Netanyahu on paper, he was severely weakened by the result. Although most analysts had predicted a sharp shift to the right in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Netanyahu’s victory was the narrowest in history[1]. Netanyahu’s Likud party secured 31 seats, losing 11 from the 42 it held previously. The left and right parliamentary blocs are nearly level, with each having won 59 and 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, respectively[2].

The recent election campaigns in Israel placed less emphasis on foreign policy than in previous years. According to Peter Beinart, “Many Israelis have turned inward and begun acting politically as if the Palestinians don’t exist” [3]. Although attitude toward Palestine was not a major issue in the campaigns themselves, it is a major issue in international politics, and Netanyahu’s coming actions will affect international opinion on his government and on Israel.

In order to pass legislation in the Knesset, Netanyahu may be forced to scale back his extreme right-wing ideas and form coalitions. Although it is possible for him to achieve a shaky majority by aligning with the other extreme right wing parties in the Knesset, such a coalition would be so unstable that it would be difficult to keep intact. Additionally, Beinart believes that, “If he goes this route, his government will be dominated by people who want to murder the two-state solution and hold a party to stomp on its grave” [3]. Although the Palestinian question is a contentious issue, such attitudes would be unpopular around the world, and Israel would surely lose support in international negotiations in organizations such as the United Nations. While it is no secret that United States President Barack Obama and Netanyahu do not have the best relationship, Obama would most likely be against an Israeli administration with strong anti-peace sentiments, which would place more strain on Israeli-U.S. relations.

Given all the negative outcomes that would stem from an extreme right wing coalition, it is more probable that Netanyahu will attempt a broader coalition with more centrist parties. Some options include Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which gained 19 seats, or the Labor party, which gained 15. Although Netanyahu has no choice but to attempt a coalition, a coalition may be difficult to achieve given the contrasting views of the two blocks in the Knesset. According to Al Jazeera, an alliance joining “parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft, could…easily be headed for gridlock”[4].

Ultimately, only time will tell how Netanyahu will handle his narrow re-election. If he attempts a coalition with his extreme right-wing counterparts, he will face international scorn and will lose support, particularly from the U.S. A broader coalition, while it is the most likely outcome, will be difficult to achieve and would possibly alienate more orthodox members of his own party. Netanyahu’s decisions in the near future will be extremely important to the future of Israel and to the Palestinian question, particularly if he is able to form a broader coalition.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israeli-election-ends-in-dramatic-deadlock-8462084.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/world/middleeast/with-all-votes-counted-in-israel-netanyahu-is-still-weakened.html?ref=israel
[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/23/obama-s-silver-lining-in-israel-elections-weaken-netanyahu.html
[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/01/2013122214950510525.html
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