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ISRAEL TO HOLD ITS SECOND ELECTION OF THE YEAR ON 17 SEPTEMBER

  • Legislative elections will take place in Israel on 17 September
  • The elections are the second to take place this year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition following the first election on 9 April
  • Polls indicate that Avigdor Lieberman, who is responsible for preventing the formation of a government in May, could become kingmaker in coalition talks
  • Security concerns are heightened ahead of the election as a number of issues contribute to elevated Israeli-Palestinian tensions
  • Protests are increasingly likely in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the lead up to and following the election
Israel election candidates
Election Overview

Israel is holding its second legislative election of the year on 17 September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition following the prior election in April. The two main political parties are Netanyahu’s Likud party and its main rival, the centrist Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. However, it is important to note that Israel has a multi-party system based on coalition governments as no single party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-member Knesset (parliament). Other parties contending in September’s election include the right-wing Yamina led by Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman's secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu. On the left, there is the Democratic Union and the Labor-Gesher alliance. There is also the Joint List, which is formed of four Arab-majority parties. 

Recent polls indicate that the two main parties, Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White alliance, will each secure around 30 seats. This compares to April when both parties secured 35 seats each, which resulted in Netanyahu being tasked with forming a coalition. However, currently, without consideration of Avigdor Lieberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties that Netanyahu traditionally relies on will secure 56 seats, five seats short of a majority. As such, Lieberman could become kingmaker, with his Yisrael Beiteinu party predicted to secure around 10 seats. 

Notably, it was Lieberman’s refusal to join Netanyahu’s governing coalition following the April vote that sparked the second election. The refusal centred on Lieberman’s disputes with ultra-Orthodox parties over a draft law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military. He has now vowed to prevent the formation of a governing coalition between right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties and has called for a unity government with Netanyahu‘s Likud party and the Blue and White alliance, adding that he would not support either unless they agree to such a government. However, Netanyahu has discounted the idea. As such, coalition-building talks following the vote are expected to be tense. 

Despite the recent polls, with more than three weeks left until voting, there remains a possibility that the centre-left bloc or right-wing bloc could fare much better than predicted, either paving the way for a right-wing government led by Netanyahu or effectively blocking it.

Security Concerns

While most travel to Israel is incident-free, there are a number of domestic and regional security concerns of note. This includes the risk of cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, as well as the risk of stabbing and vehicle-ramming attacks targeting Israeli nationals and members of the Israeli security forces. Protests, which are a regular occurrence in Israel, are also possible and can lead to travel disruptions.

Notably, in the lead up to the elections on 9 April earlier this year, a rocket fired from Rafah in southern Gaza hit a residential building on 25 March in the central community of Mishmeret, 20 miles north of Tel Aviv. The incident was significant as it was the furthest a Palestinian rocket had reached in Israel since the Gaza 2014 conflict. The attack also came 10 days after two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv on 14 March, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the time described as an apparent “mistake” by Hamas.

Despite a relative calm at the Israel-Gaza border in recent months, there remains a risk of an escalation in cross-border violence leading up to Israel’s election on 17 September. The aim of any escalation could be to undermine Netanyahu ahead of the election, or it could be a strategy to gain additional concessions from Israel. In particular, militants in Gaza have been known to carry out attacks near to significant dates, when Israel is more willing to make concessions in order to avoid an event being overshadowed by security concerns. This was most recently demonstrated in the lead up to Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision contest, when nearly 700 rockets were fired at Israel during the weekend of 3-6 May. This led to a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas – the Islamist organisation that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. In exchange for Hamas halting violence at the border, Israel eased its blockade on Gaza. Nevertheless, cross-border incidents have still occurred. A rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel on 22 August marked the sixth incident in a week. In addition, Israeli authorities are facing pressure to respond to an increasing number of cross-border infiltrations from Gaza.

Leading up to the election, there are a number of issues that are contributing to elevated Israeli-Palestinian tensions. In particular, there have been tensions surrounding the status quo at Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem’s Old City. This has been simmering since 11 August when Israeli police allowed Jews to visit Temple Mount on the first day of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year also coincided with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av. Notably, Hamas cited recent stabbing and vehicle-ramming attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem’s Old City as being in response to the Temple Mount issue. This includes an incident on 15 August in which two teenage assailants stabbed and moderately injured an Israeli policeman outside the Old City’s Chain Gate (Bab al-Silsileh) before being shot at the scene by security forces. On the following day, two Israeli teenagers were hit in a car-ramming attack as they waited for a bus outside the settlement of Elazar in the West Bank, located approximately 8 miles south of Bethlehem. The Elazar settlement is also near to Migdal Oz, where an off duty IDF soldier was stabbed and killed on 7 August. Further attacks are most likely to target Israeli nationals and security personnel near settlements in the West Bank or at the entrances to the Old City, but incidents have also occurred near transportation hubs in Jerusalem.

There has also been speculation around potential “gifts” from US President Donald Trump to Netanyahu on the eve of the election. In particular, there are concerns from Palestinians that Trump could declare his approval of Israel annexing the West Bank’s Area C, which is the area of the West Bank where there is full Israeli control and where the majority of Israeli settlements are located. This would be reminiscent of Trump declaring his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights around two weeks prior to the 9 April election, and would prove popular with Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters.

Disruptive protests are increasingly likely leading up to and following the election. With Netanyahu currently facing corruption charges, anti-corruption and anti-Netanyahu protests are possible in Tel Aviv. Additionally, protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews over a draft law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military may take place in Jerusalem and the Bnei Brak suburb of Tel Aviv, with incidents leading to clashes on several occasions in the past year. The issue was at the centre of the failed coalition building earlier this year, and the outcome of September’s election risks reigniting tensions over the issue. Additionally, should there be any further cross-border incidents, residents of southern Israel, in areas bordering Gaza, may also protest in Tel Aviv to demand greater protection.

Advice
  • Expect heightened security ahead of the election, particularly during campaign events.

  • Prepare for possible travel disruption due to heightened security measures. Sufficient time should be allowed for travel to Ben Gurion International Airport.

  • Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, where possible. Even events that look peaceful can quickly deteriorate.

  • Maintain situational awareness in light of security risks, particularly at transportation hubs and in public places.

  • Continue to avoid travel to areas bordering the Gaza Strip due to the risk of cross-border violence.

  • Know the location of protective shelters at accommodations and worksites, and know how to reach public shelters in the event of a rocket alarm.

  • Follow the advice of local authorities at all times, including any travel restrictions.

  • Avoid discussing Israeli-Palestinian tensions and Israeli policies, including on social media.