Israeli Elections: What Will the Future Hold?

By Sandy Tankoos

The Israeli electorate has spoken and what they have said is a little different than what had been predicted.  Although Israel is a democracy, their system is quite different than ours here in the U.S.  In the United States we vote for a person who usually runs with the support of a party.  Essentially here in the U.S. we have a two-party system.  In Israel, you do not vote for a person, you vote for a political party.  In the election that was just held in Israel there were 34 parties on their ballot, each trying to get two percent of the vote because you need two percent of the vote in order to have a seat in the Israeli legislative body, the Knesset.  There are 120 seats in the Knesset and those seats are divided among the parties who receive that magic number of two percent.

Each party in Israel puts up a number of candidates to run for election.  If, for example, they put up 10 candidates and they get enough votes to have five seats, the top five names on their list will become Knesset members.  The leader of the party is always in the number one spot on their list of candidates.  The Prime Minister will be chosen by those members of the Knesset who have just been elected.  With so many parties in the picture, it just doesn’t happen that any one party gets a clear majority of the votes (61 votes).  It could happen, but it usually doesn’t.  Consequently, in order to form a government, it’s necessary to bring together a coalition from the various parties.  The parties who are not part of the coalition are the opposition.

In the fall of 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked for early elections to take place in January of 2013 and at this point the Israeli electorate has spoken. Voters turned out in larger numbers than expected, many more than in recent previous elections.  That in and of itself was a big surprise.  Benjamin Netanyahu did receive the largest number of votes and he now has the opportunity to form a government.  However, he is only starting with 31 seats and he has to now form a coalition to bring him to a 61-seat majority – another surprise.  Who he forms a coalition with will determine the direction Israel will follow going forward.  He can elect to align himself with extremists on the right or he can try to form a government with those parties leaning towards the center or the left, which has not been his natural disposition in the past.  If he chooses to align himself with the right then that would indicate that he is moving away from a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem.  The world is awaiting his decision.

Sandy Tankoos was the founder and President of two successful court reporting agencies. She is a member of both the URJ and ARZA Boards. This post was originally published on

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