Netanyahu woos defectors to form govt; What are Israeli norms for floor crossing?

Three seats short of majority, Benjamin Netanyahu is looking for defectors. Israeli press says potential deserters include Orly Levy-Abecassis, Omer Yankelevich, Orly Fruman and Amir Peretz.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a simple majority in the Knesset as Monday's elections returned a fractured verdict yet again, pushing the country into further uncertainty even after a third election in a year. Netanyahu's Likud coalition won 58 seats in the 120-member parliament, according to the latest tally of results after 99 percent of the votes were counted.

However, despite winning a clear majority, the prime minister and his allies are confident of forming a government within a few days with the support of key defectors from other parties. Though Netanyahu wooed the support of the Avigdor Lieberman's centrist Yisrael Beytenu, which has won seven seats, the party has soundly denied support for the right wing Likud coalition led by Netyanyahu.

What is the final tally?


Netanyahu's Likud party and its allies have won 58 seats, three short of the majority. While Likud won a total of 36 seats, its allies -- Shas, UTJ and Yamina — have won the rest. Benny Gabntz's Blue and White won 33 seats, one more than the 32 they got in the previous election. Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu won seven seats, the same number it got in the last election. Labor-Gesher-Meretz also won seven seats, as did United Torah Judaism (UTJ). The Arab parties coalition, the Joint List, managed to win 15 Knesset seats, one less than than the previous election tally. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party won 9 seats in Monday's election.

Are these final numbers?

These are final numbers, but not official. The final tally is confirmed when 100 percent of votes including the 'double-envelope' votes from defence personnel, diplomats, patients, prisoners and the like, are counted. This tally will be announced on Wednesday night but is not expected to change from the current projections. However, the official results will be announced only on March 10.

Why Netanyahu is likely to form government

Israel Knesset building
Israel Knesset building Wikimedia Commons / Beny Shlevich

The Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, whose party has won 33 seats, has rebuffed an offer for forming a unity coalition government. This leaves the Likud coalition the option to win over at least three defectors from other parties. Though this process us cumbersome under Israeli rules, Netanyahu could still finally prevail given the general mood of aversion against continued uncertainty and a fourth general election.

Can Likud win enough defectors?

The only way for Netahnyahu and the Likud to form the next government is by successfully wooing at least three defectors from other parties. This is not easy even though Netanyahu's former associates and colleagues have won from other parties this time. Likud lawmkers and party officials have already started efforts to win the support of key deserters. Likud spokesman Yonatan Urich told Channel 13 that the party is in touch with of "four to six" parliamentarians from other parties. He added that Netanyahu will form a coalition government within a few days.

Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White Wikimedia Commons

Is winning deserters' support easy?

Under the Israeli system, crossing floors after an election is not easy though not impossible. Some of the Knesset members whose names have been bandied out as possible defectors have already vehemently denied hobnobbing with the Likud leaders.

What is the Israeli system of co-opting defectors?

Israel has well defined conventions when it comes to drafting defectors after an election. According to Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, Netanyahu's efforts to win defectors will face challenges. He points out that parliamentarians who cross the floor will face sanctions. The punitive steps against defectors include being denied ministership and a range of restrictions when it comes to standing in future elections. Besides, a government formed with the help of defectors will be unstable, he says. "Mr. Netanyahu's path to introducing a new government is not that clear and is not secure," Plesner said, according to The Globe and Mail.

Will Netanyahu still win defectors?

Yes, he could. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Likud party leaders have zeroed in on some potential defectors, who would find reasonable trade-off benefits in backing Netanyahu despite the sanctions they could face. And there are some whose defections will not attract the strict terms of the defector draft rules.

Who are the potential defectors?

Orly Levy-Abecassis, Omer Yankelevich, Orly Fruman and Amir Peretz are actively courted by the Likud coalition, according to the JP. Orly Levy-Abecassis is the head of the Gesher Party. Since her's is an independent party, her defection would not attract the anti-defection measures. The paper also reports that she would be offered the health minister's job in the new ministry if she supports Netanyahu.

Omer Yankelevich is a A Blue and White MK, who is reportedly under pressure to shift loyalty after a leaked tape revealed that she had said Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was a 'dumb loser' who won't make a good prime minister. She would face sanctions if she defects, but reports point out that she won't be able to run in the Blue and White ticket any way in the next election.

Orly Fruman is a member of Telem Party, led by former Likud minister Moshe Ya'alon. She had called for Blue and White to enter into a unity government with Netanyahu, reflecting the general mood of aversion against the country going into another election. Another potential defector is Amir Peretz, the Labor leader, who at 68 years won't be eligible to make another Knesset run.

This article was first published on March 4, 2020