Israel’s Elections Could Turn on Vote Sharing Agreements With Smaller Parties

In a close election like this one, deals made with other parties could be vital for a Herzog or a Netanyahu win.


With exit polls showing Isaac Herzog’s center-left Zionist Union party neck and neck with Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, Israel’s election could come down to these parties’ agreements with smaller contenders.

No party has ever won the 61 votes necessary for a majority in the 120-member Knesset, meaning there’s always plenty of post-election wrangling to form a coalition government. But in a close race like this, another factor could also become significant: so-called “vote sharing agreements.” That’s when parties can agree to transfer “excess” votes that don’t add up to a full Knesset seat to another party’s tally. The combined votes then might yield another seat for the larger party.

These agreements become especially important when a party gets less than 3.25 percent of the vote — a likely outcome for some of the 25 entrants in this election. To keep the legislature from becoming too fractured, Israel’s electoral system bars parties with votes under the 3.25 percent threshold from taking any seats. But they can throw their power behind allied parties — and potentially provide the winning edge in close elections.

Because these seats can hang on quite small margins, “it might take at least another day or two to figure out what they call ‘excess votes,’” said Neri Zilber, a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It usually takes about a day to finalize the votes and check any irregularities and ultimately give excess seats wherever the agreements lie,” he said. “And especially in an election this tight, those one or two seats difference have the potential to be significant.”

Herzog’s Zionist Union, for example, has a vote sharing agreement with the left-wing Meretz party, which could hand Herzog’s party another seat or two, Zilber said. Netanyahu’s Likud’s vote sharing agreement with Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party likewise could give Bibi a bump. For its part, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party didn’t secure any vote sharing agreements. A proposed agreement between the Joint Arab List – the coalition that exit polls currently put in third place – and Meretz fell through because the Arab coalition deemed Meretz too Zionist, Zilber said.

“That failure to come to terms with Meretz by the Joint Arab List could, in theory, cost the Israeli left one to two seats, and that might be important,” he said.

Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. Twitter: @jkdrennan

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