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Could Arab parties be a decisive factor in forming Israel's next coalition government?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara voting, March 23, 2021. Credit: K. Gideon/Israeli GPO

After the fourth national election in just two years, Israeli politics remains deadlocked. Unexpected developments may prevent a fifth round.

UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, March 25, 2021 –– Millions of Israelis went to the polls this week in a general election to decide the next government. It marked the fourth national election in just two years and produced an inconclusive result with no party able to form a governing majority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the Knesset, more than the next two parties combined (Yesh Atid and Shas). Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc received 52 seats, falling short of the 61 seats of the 120 parliament members needed to form a government. The anti-Netanyahu bloc secured 57 seats.
With no clear winner, is Israel headed to a fifth election? That Israel finds itself in another political impasse is perhaps not a surprise. But what may be unusual this time around is how Israel’s Arab parties may have gained a new status in the March 2021 election. Ra’am, one of the Arab parties, could be a decisive factor in breaking Israel’s stalemate.
"For the first time in Israeli history, an Arab party might become a partner in a coalition, and the fact that both Netanyahu and his opponents are open to this possibility could change the Israeli political landscape in the long run," said Liron Lavi, UCLA Nazarian Center research fellow and a scholar of election and democracy in Israel. 
If Ra’am joins a new government coalition, it could elevate Arab parties’ role in Israeli politics and coalition formation. Ra’am is projected to win four seats, which could be critical in forming either a right-wing or center-left coalition.
Arab Israeli voter turnout increased throughout the three previous rounds of national elections, but it appears to have declined in this week’s election. Arab citizens of Israel represent about 20 percent of the country’s population.

"This election did not create a clear road out of the deadlock," said Lavi. "But with the rise of Arab parties and an increase in right-wing opposition to Netanyahu (Gideon Sa'ar and Naftali Bennett), could produce unlikely allies before Israelis go to the polls again."

JOURNALISTS: Research Fellow Liron Lavi and other experts from the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies are available for media interviews to comment on the Israeli election. For interview requests, contact Communications Manager Jeff Daniels:  jdaniels@international.ucla.edu

The Nazarian Center is hosting two upcoming webinars on the Israeli election:

Analyzing the 2021 Israeli Election: Results and ProspectsWednesday, March 31, 2021 (11:00 AM - 12:00 PM Pacific Time) – An expert panel will discuss and analyze the most recent national election in Israel and address a range of issues, including what the election means in terms of Israel's political stability. Speakers: Oded Haklai, Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University in Canada and author of Palestinian Ethnonationalism in Israel (2011); Menachem Hofnung, Department of Political Science of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a visiting professor at the UCLA Nazarian Center; Liron Lavi, UCLA Nazarian Center research fellow and managing editor of the Nazarian Center's flagship publication, Currents: Briefs on Contemporary Israel; and Dov Waxman (moderator), the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair of Israel Studies at UCLA and director of the Nazarian Center. Register

Israel's Four Recent Elections: Policy, Ideology and the State of Israeli DemocracyWednesday, April 7, 2021 (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM Pacific Time) – Israeli political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin will discuss the last four Israeli national elections since April 2019 and changes in Israel's political landscape. Register