For the second time this year, an Israeli election has ended in a virtual deadlock between the major parties and political blocs. And, once again, the results leave us highly uncertain about what will come next.
Here’s what we do know: Prime Minister Netanyahu called this election because he wanted to secure a clear majority of 61 seats for himself and his right-wing bloc – and he failed.
Today, his political position is considerably worse than it was before the polls closed last week, and worse than it was following the election in April. Without the majority he wanted, he cannot secure immunity from prosecution on charges of corruption – and could ultimately stand trial.
In the final weeks of the election campaign – and even on election day itself – Netanyahu pulled every shameless trick he could think of: promising annexation of the Jordan Valley and ultimately all the settlements; seeking to put cameras in polling stations to suppress the Arab vote; and leading vitriolic incitement against Israel’s Arab population and its political leaders. This strategy appears to have backfired – helping to inspire higher Arab-Israeli turnout that hurt Netanyahu.
It’s important and encouraging for Israeli democracy that Netanyahu failed to achieve his aim, and that millions of Israelis rejected his extreme, anti-democratic rhetoric and tactics. It’s a reminder that Israeli society remains deeply divided. While defenders of democracy have been under sustained attack from Netanyahu and his allies, they still have the capacity to fight back – and need all of the support we can give them to help win that fight.
At the same time, this election result by itself does not guarantee that Netanyahu’s days of political power are over – or tell us exactly what the composition, policies and priorities of the next Israeli government will be. Nor does it mean we’re likely to see a major change in the status quo when it comes to the occupation or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Weeks of coalition negotiations between the major parties lie ahead, and the most likely outcome is a “unity government” that would share power between former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party (which won the most seats), Likud, and Avigdor Lieberman’s secular-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. While the positions of Blue and White on the Palestinian issue are still up in the air, any government that includes so many right-wing leaders and MKs is very unlikely to accept a move away from permanent occupation or toward a two-state solution.
The Trump administration also remains a dangerous wildcard. It has promised to release its “peace vision” after the election. Based on everything the administration has said and done so far, it’s clear that this vision won’t include a viable two-state peace agreement, but will instead endorse permanent occupation – and potentially give the green light to Israeli annexation in areas of the West Bank.
One thing remains clear: the Trump team isn’t giving up. Today, Jason Greenblatt heads to Israel to discuss the administration’s plans with both Netanyahu and Gantz. While Blue and White is far more likely than Likud to listen to the protests of the Israeli security establishment and to be cautious in its actions, there is still a real risk that the next Israeli government would consider partial annexation in the West Bank – especially if encouraged or invited to do so by President Trump.
For J Street, our work now becomes vitally important. We will urge Congress, presidential candidates and American Jewish leaders to send a clear message to Israeli political leaders during the coalition negotiations: The status quo of unending occupation is disastrous for Israel and deeply unjust for Palestinians. Any West Bank annexations would lead to major consequences for the U.S.-Israel relationship. To secure its future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, Israel must return to a path that leads toward the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street.