Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 01 December 2014 he would call an early national election unless some ministers stopped attacking government policies. The coalition, dominated by the right-wing, was split on the 2015 budget, living costs and policy toward the Palestinians. Critics also said that a Jewish nation-state bill discriminated against Israel’s Arab minority. “I have not enjoyed the fulfillment of even the most fundamental obligation – the loyalty and responsibility of ministers to the government in which they serve,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party. An election would not normally be scheduled until 2017.
On 02 December 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for early elections; this after dismissing key centrist ministers Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over an array of policy disputes. Cracks in Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition emerged over the 2015 budget and a contentious bill aimed at enshrining Israel's status as the Jewish state in law, a move critics say could harm its Arab minority. Internal dissent also had focussed on next year's budget, taxation policy and the high cost of living. Netanyahu said he would dissolve the current parliament 'as soon as possible.' The coalition was likely to support the proposal, under which elections could be held as early as March 2015. The next poll had theoretically been due in November 2017.
A poll published on 01 December 2014 by the Haaretz daily found that Labor would drop three seats, Hatnua would win just four seats, and Kadima would not make it past the minimum threshold. The survey predicted that the Likud would score 24 seats out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, six more than its current tally.
Labor party leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni announced a merger on 10 December 2014 to establish a large center-left political bloc for the 17 March 2015 elections. Under the union agreement, the two will share the prime ministership on rotation, with Herzog as prime minister the first two years and Livni the last two years, should they win the upcoming elections.
By early March 2015 polls showed Netanyahu running neck and neck with leading rival Isaac Herzog of the left-of-center Zionist Union, which said it would seek a resumption of regional peace talks. Most surveys predicted that the Zionist Union could win up to 24 seats in the Israeli parliament, compared to Likud’s 21. If current trends continued, Israel would have a new prime minister come March 17th and would form a coalition government. Labour Party leader Issac Herzog would become prime minister for the first two years of the four-year term, then Zionist Union leader Tzipi Livni would take over the remaining two years.
Netanyahu has focused on the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist militants in the region. But many Israelis had said they were tiring of the message, and the centre-left campaigned on social and economic issues, surging in polls as election day neared. The majority of polls showed that while most Israelis think security is an important issue, they also said the Netanyahu administration had not paid enough attention to the economy and jobs — Israel had of late a rapidly increasing cost of living.
For the first time in history, four Arab-led parties joined forces. The United List appealed to Arab-Israelis, who form 20 percent of the Israeli population but are under-represented in government and civil service. Despite similar platforms that each call for the creation of a Palestinian state and for equality between Jews and Arabs within Israel, the three had resisted calls from the Arab public that they unite under a single party list. A new law requiring that political parties obtain 3.25 percent of the overall vote to obtain Knesset representation, rather than the 2.0 percent required in the past, led them to unite under the United Arab List.
A new party - Kulanu - was led by Moshe Kahlon and focused on economic and cost-of-living issues. Kahlon is a former member of Likud and served as Minister of Communications and Minister of Welfare & Social Services. He was widely credited with leading the “Cellular Revolution” in Israel, allowing new competitors to enter the cellular communications market significantly lowering prices.
Israel’s Channel 1 and Channel 10 exit polls gave Netanyahu’s Likud party 27 seats, and Herzog’s Zionist Union party 27 seats in the 120-member Parliament. Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 2 exit poll gave Netanyahu’s Likud party 28 seats, and Herzog’s Zionist Union party 27 seats in Parliament. The Joint List grouping Israel's main Arab parties took third place in the general election, winning 13 seats, exit polls showed.
Despite the seeming deadlock, Netanyahu claimed a great victory. "Against all odds: a great victory for Likud, a great victory for the national camp led by Likud, a great victory for the people of Israel". Once the final results were announced, it appeared that Likud could form a coalition with more than 61 seats, while the Zionist Union could not.
The polls were showing the center-left opposition bloc in the lead in the days leading up to the vote. Trailing his center-left opponent Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog in opinion polls, the three-term leader has sought to shift the focus away from socioeconomic issues and on to security challenges, saying he alone can defend Israel. Netanyahu consolidated his base by rejecting the possibility of Palestinian statehood and complaining about the number of Arabs voting in the election.
A new centrist party led by former communications minister Moshe Kahlon could be the kingmaker in coalition talks. After the balloting ended, he said he did not rule out a partnership with either Likud or Zionist Union. The exit polls gave right-wing and religious parties – Netanyahu’s traditional partners – about 54 seats, and left-leaning factions, 43 – both figures still short of a governing majority in the 120 seat parliament.
With nearly all of the ballots counted, Likud captured 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, compared with 24 seats for its main challenger, the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Exit polls had projected a tight race, with the two sides at 24 seats apiece. Moshe Kahlon's centrist Kulanu party won 10 seats. Turnout was around 72 percent, higher than the last election in 2013.
Barry Shaw wrote: "... The intervention of an army of Obama presidential campaigners, hiding behind the State Department sponsored One Voice NGO, landing into Tel Aviv annoyed the Israeli voter and rebounded against Herzog as the country renounced the foreign interference into the election process."
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he would meet with both leading candidates to discuss forming a national unity government if there was no clear winner. If both sides couldn't agree on political and socio-economic issues, he said that they should at least work to reform the country's electoral system, so that Israel doesn't "turn into Italy" and hold early elections every two years. Both Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog oppose the election reform plan, however.
On 18 March 2015 Likud captured 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, compared with 24 seats for its main challenger, the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Exit polls had projected a tight race, with the two sides at 24 seats apiece. This was a situation where many people wanted to replace him but there was no one whom they wanted to replace him with. Especially in the last few days of the campaign – when Israeli opinion polls were suggesting Netanyahu would not win a fourth term – the prime minister portrayed himself both as a strongman bent on protecting Israeli security and a victim of opposition news media and some foreign leaders, including Obama.
The campaign exposed a rift that some thought had subsided: the deep-seated schism between Jews of European and Middle Eastern descent. Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, Jews heavily backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, while Ashkenazi, or European, Jews mostly identified with the opposition Zionist Union. The sides exchanged insults, with Mizrahi voters called primitive and Ashkenazi voters viewed as elitist.
Labor party head Isaac Herzog peaked in the March 2015 elections. The 24 Knesset seats won by his Zionist Camp with Tzipi Livni were a kind of miracle for Labor. But there has been no forward momentum since. Labor was unable to present a coherent and effective alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud. Netanyahu’s win meant security trumped domestic issues. Moderate Israelis had hoped that public frustration with Netanyahu's six straight years in office would bring voters to pull Israel away from what they perceived as its rightward march toward international isolation, economic inequality and a dead end for peace with the Palestinians. After the election, columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv "Israel is split - between left and right, between Bibi and anti-Bibi, between aspirations for normalcy and aspirations for territory... Two states, two styles, two world views, split once again."
Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, Israel’s liberal newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu: "... viewed the election as an opportunity to fulfill his old dream of “elite change,” doing away with the dominance of the Oslo-era-speak of peace and compromise with the Palestinians, replacing it with opposition to any territorial change in West Bank.... Israel’s mainstream media parrots Netanyahu’s narrative: the Jewish state faces a permanent threat of annihilation, the Palestinians are the present-day Nazis, and the West is either anti-Semitic or oblivious to the fate of the Jews, just as it was during the Holocaust."
On 06 May 2015 Israel's prime minister convinced Naftali Bennett of the the far-right Jewish Home party to join his coalition just before the deadline to form a new government. Netanyahu's Likud party, together with its coalition partners, the orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism and now the far-right Jewish Home, can now achieve a majority of 61 seats in Tel Aviv's 120-member Knesset.
The pro-settler Jewish Home was the only alternative left for Netanyahu after Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu and foreign minister in Netanyahu's outgoing government, refused to join the Likud's coalition. Netanyahu's bloc did not "reflect the positions of the nationalist camp," Lieberman said, after Likud offered his party two positions in the coalition government.
The Knesset plenum approved the 34th Israeli government on 14 May 2015. The newly-appointed cabinet was represented mainly by the members of the ultra-Orthodox parties and the right camp who support further occupation of the Palestinian territories. The coalition of five parties won a parliamentary majority by a narrow margin with 61 MPs against 59 in the ranks of the opposition that criticized Netanyahu for the stagnation of the peace process with Palestine, attempts to disrupt the nuclear deal with Iran and complicate relations with the US and Europe. The ruling coalition voted entirely in support of the Cabinet, while the whole opposition voted against.
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