World

Israel’s Prime Minister Elections Produce Two Victors

READING TIME ~ 4 MINUTES

Before understanding Israel’s Prime Minister elections, it’s important to first understand its system of politics. Israel, unlike the US, has more than two prominent political parties, each with considerable power. In its version of Congress, known as Knesset, no party has ever held a majority of its 120 seats. The Prime Minister of Israel is chosen by the members of the Knesset. The members of the Knesset are directly elected by the people for 4-year terms, but early elections are common, and an election could happen before the end of this term if the majority of Knesset members decide so. Since no party holds a majority, they are forced to ally with other parties and work with them to gain their vote in favor of a particular Prime Minister. Even if the Prime Minister represents a particular party, the roles of his or her Ministers (similar to the Cabinet in the US) can be given to people from other parties in order to gain their support in the Prime Minister elections. These alliances are often changing, which is one of the main reasons that Knesset members’ 4-year terms are interrupted with elections. In the past 2 years alone, there have been 4 Knesset elections!

The Knesset during a meeting overview in 2019 (Menahem Kahana via Getty Images)

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What was the outcome of the most recent Prime Minister election?
  2. How are the new Prime Minister-Elects’ views different from the previous Prime Minister’s?
  3. What’s next for Israel and America?

1: What Was the Outcome of the Most Recent Prime Minister Election?

The most recent Prime Minister Election was on March 23, 2021. After this, the parties were given time to form new coalitions with their candidates, and on June 2, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party and Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party reached an agreement between their own and 5 other political parties that helped them overcome the 61-vote margin needed to become Prime Minister. Their agreement entails that Bennett will be Prime Minister for two years, and then Lapid will take over for the other two. 

2: How are the new Prime Minister-Elects’ views different from the previous Prime Minister?

The previous Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was staunchly right-wing and supported taking a strong military approach against Palestine. His biggest appeal to Israeli voters is his approach to Palestine, where he has taken a very aggressive stance. He also has some support from Orthodox Jewish supporters because of his support of smaller fines for people who violate COVID-19 safety regulations. 

The Lapid-Bennet duo has different views from Netanyahu and even from each other. While Lapid is a centrist, Bennett is even further to the right than Netanyahu. Bennett views Palestine as a ‘terrorist state.’ In 2018, He has even advocated for a ‘shoot to kill’ order toward Palestinians who attempt to cross the Gaza Strip. Unlike other Israelis, he does not think the two countries will be able to accomplish the ‘two-state solution,’ where Israel and Palestine become one nation. It can be assumed that given the recent rocket-filled ruckus that Hamas started a few weeks ago, he will only gain more support from Israelis. On the other hand, Lapid’s centrist views apply to Palestine as well. In a speech he gave in 2019, he said that Israel needed to stop the occupation of Palestine, much different than Bennett. How well can the two cooperate? That remains to be seen in the following weeks. 

Lapid (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

3: What’s Next For Israel and America?

America: After the recent rocket attacks between Israel and Palestine, the high civilian casualties in Palestine have elicited greater support for Palestine among American citizens and lawmakers. Many of these lawmakers are Democratic progressives, and they want America to play a more active role in negotiating peace. Given Bennett’s interest in confronting the Palestinians militarily, President Biden will have to choose whether America will support Israel or Palestine in a potential war.. 

Israel: As mentioned before, much remains to be seen about how well Bennett and Lapid cooperate. Yet, most Israelis aren’t very optimistic. 70% expect party coalitions to have shifted and a fifth election to happen. 

TL;DR

  1. In Israel, the Prime Minister is voted by the Knesset, Israel’s form of Congress. The Knesset is directly voted by Israeli citizens. 
  2. On March 23, the Knesset was voted on, and two months later, on June 2, this new Knesset voted for a pair to be Prime Ministers: Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. 
  3. Bennett will be Prime Minister for the first two years of the term, and Lapid will take over the next two years. 
  4. Bennett is more hard-line than Netanyahu – for example, he wants to take a very aggressive stance against Palestine, who he considers ‘terrorists.’ Lapid is more centrist, and wants Israel to leave Palestine completely. 
  5. How will the two cooperate? That remains to be seen in the following weeks. 

Sources

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/netanyahus-deadline-form-government-expires-rivals-eyed-2021-05-04/

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/07/whats-next-for-israel-70percent-of-israelis-see-a-fifth-election.html

https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/04/middleeast/naftali-bennett-israel-profile-intl-cmd/index.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/07/benjamin-netanyahus-proposal-would-bury-the-two-state-solution

https://www.jns.org/opinion/what-sort-of-government-are-lapid-and-bennett-forming/

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/yair-lapid-outlines-four-demands-for-peace-with-palestinians-1.7000533

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/05/17/biden-israel-pale

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