Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

All Quiet on the Western Front: The Outcome of Israel's March 2015 Elections and the Peace Process

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

All Quiet on the Western Front: The Outcome of Israel's March 2015 Elections and the Peace Process

Article excerpt

Introduction

The most recent parliamentary elections took place on March 17, 2015, about two years after the 2013 elections. As usual in Israel, no party won an overall majority; however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud remained the largest party. Parliamentary elections in Israel are supposed to take place every four years, but conflicts and infighting within governing coalitions often lead to the dissolution of governments and the calling of early elections. Ever since 1988 not a single Israeli government has managed to serve the whole of its four-year term of office.1 The March 2015 elections were unusual in Israel's political history, because it was the second time that a Knesset (Israel's parliament) election took place two years after the previous one, which is the shortest time in 50 years.2

The reason that the 2015 elections were held only two years after the previous elections lies in the results of 2013. According to the results of the previous election, the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties of Likud, the Jewish Home, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Yisrael Beiteinu won a total of 61 seats in the Knesset. However, when Benjamin Netanyahu sought to establish a coalition with his "natural partners,"3 due to an ad hoc alliance between the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, a different government that included Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, the Jewish Home, and Hatnuah, but excluded the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), was forced on Netanyahu.4 The government often found it difficult to function and by late December 2014, as a result of the discussions about the proposed Jewish nation-state bill and the 2015 budget, tensions peaked. Perhaps the principal catalyst of the dissolution of the government was Netanyahu's controversial Jewish nation-state bill, which among other things would have removed Arabic as one of Israel's official languages and would have declared Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.5 The bill was opposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, but approved by the rest of the cabinet. There have been intense disagreements between Netanyahu, Lapid, and Livni. Livni and Lapid argued that enshrining in law Israel's place as a Jewish state would have discriminatory consequences for Israel's Arab citizens. On the other hand, Netanyahu accused them of trying to undermine his government and told them that he had no choice but to dissolve the Knesset and to call for new elections.6 Netanyahu claimed that his cabinet was "contrarian from the day of its inception" and was "forced upon him."7 On December 8, 2014, the Knesset approved a measure that dissolved itself, and new elections were scheduled for March 17, 2015.8

In Israel, elections for the Knesset are supposed to be held at least every four years. All citizens above the age of 18 are eligible to vote. Voters simply select one party. They vote for a list of candidates, and not for a particular person on the list. The electoral system is based on nation-wide proportional representation, and the number of seats that each party gains in the Knesset is proportional to the number of votes it receives.9 With the amendment of the Governance Law in 2014, new policies have been in place for the first time during the 2015 election. The most significant of which was the raising of the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent.10 This change encouraged parties to join forces, and the Arab parties especially took advantage of this and created a joint list for the election.11

For almost Israel's entire existence, virtually all the issues on the agenda of every election have been economy, the settlements, security, and diplomacy. Neoliberal policies have transformed Israel's economy into a bone of contention among the political parties, at least for the past 25 years, and many elections have been fought over issues of socio-economy, such as economic equality and income gaps. …

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