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Netanyahu's Government Will Likely Survive Until 2026

Widespread expectations that Prime Minister Netanyahu's premiership will not outlast the war in Gaza are unfounded. His prewar coalition need not face Israeli voters until the next scheduled Knesset election in October 2026. Unless Likud's popularity soars following a successful military campaign against Hamas, no coalition faction would benefit from early elections. Moreover, because Netanyahu and his religious-Zionist coalition partners reject Opposition Leader Yair Lapid's proposed postwar political arrangements for Gaza, ceding power before sabotaging those arrangements appears unlikely.

Those predicting Netanyahu's imminent political demise assume Israel will hold elections immediately after Operation Swords of Iron and the opposition will win. A November 3 Camil Fuchs survey found 64 percent of Israelis agree that "Israel must hold elections at the war's end." Furthermore, every poll since October 7 shows Benny Gantz's National Unity winning a large Knesset plurality, almost entirely at Likud's expense. Even if this sentiment persists, Netanyahu is not obligated to call an election after the military operation.

Netanyahu's Haredi (i.e. Shas and United Torah Judaism) and religious-Zionist coalition partners (i.e. Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit) learned during Israel's 2018-2022 political crisis that Likud remains the only secular party still willing to include them in government. Panic about religious population growth drove Yisrael Beiteinu, followed by Gantz and Lapid's then-existing Kahol Lavan joint list, to boycott them. Accordingly, Shas and United Torah Judaism will favor delaying elections until Likud's polling numbers improve.

Demographic change further encourages religious parties to defer elections as long as possible should Likud's political fortunes not recover because the Orthodox percentage of the electorate grows every year. Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) promptly retracting his call for early elections illustrates the Haredi parties' unbreakable bond with Likud. Ben-Tzur initially told Maariv, "At the end of the war, Netanyahu will be forced to go to the elections within 90 days... The public will have its say and then we will see if Netanyahu gets a mandate." Less than 24 hours later, Ben-Tzur clarified, "These things do not at all represent the position of the Shas movement, which is determined by the Council of Sages and presented by the chairman of the movement only. In war, you do not talk about politics and I made a mistake in my judgment."

The desire to shape Gaza's postwar regime will further motivate Likud and its religious-Zionist allies to postpone elections. They each oppose Palestinian statehood, the former on security grounds and the latter also for theological reasons. Prime Minister Netanyahu has always believed that Israel must retain "overriding security responsibility in the area west of the Jordan" while Palestinians can exercise civil control over their territory.

However, last Saturday he ruled out the Palestinian Authority (PA) administering postwar Gaza. Netanyahu's stance contradicts that of the Biden administration, most European states, Western-aligned Arab countries, and Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid. When Lapid demanded Netanyahu's resignation during a Nov. 15 interview, a Likud statement accused him of plotting to replace the current coalition "with a government that will establish a Palestinian state and allow the Palestinian Authority to control Gaza."

Fears that a Gantz and Lapid-led government may invite the PA to run Gaza, making a fully sovereign Palestinian state more likely, incentivizes the current coalition to delay Knesset elections until it can implement postwar policies sabotaging such an outcome. Those policies' content remains to be seen.

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