The right-wing New Hope and Yamina parties on Monday signed a vote-sharing agreement, potentially leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the lurch.
Hours later, the Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties announced that they too had inked a vote-sharing deal.
Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes they win that do not add up to enough for a Knesset seat do not go to waste. Instead, a party is permitted to transfer those votes through a special agreement with another party.
Under law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat, and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making them potentially decisive in a close race.
Agreements are usually signed between parties that are politically or ideologically close. The right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu has previously signed agreements with Likud, but the party’s leader, Avigdor Liberman, fell out with Netanyahu after the April 2019 elections. It signed a deal before the September 2019 elections with the centrist Blue and White alliance, which Yesh Atid was part of at the time.
The deal between former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Yamina could leave Likud without a vote-sharing deal for the first time since 2003, with Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies Shas and United Torah Judaism expected to sign an agreement among themselves.
Likud has signed vote-sharing agreements with Yamina or other national-religious factions in the past five elections.
The deadline for signing the deals is March 12, 11 days before the March 23 elections.
Monday’s agreement came as Yamina has drifted away from Likud. But while Sa’ar has repeatedly vowed that he will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett has stopped short of entirely rejecting his former ally, saying that he aims to replace him as prime minister, but has not ruled out serving with or under him in a coalition.
Despite enjoying a lead in recent polling, Netanyahu’s Likud, Shas, and UTJ lack a clear path to forming the next coalition, due to the animosity from the other right-wing parties.
By contrast, various arrays of anti-Netanyahu parties — New Hope, Yamina, Yesh Atid, The Israelis, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Blue and White — could muster a majority between them. Since they range across the political spectrum from right to left, however, it is not clear that they would agree to sit in government together.
New elections, the fourth since April 2019, were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.