Elections for the 18th Knesset were held in Israel on 10 February 2009. These elections became necessary due to the resignation of Prime MinisterEhud Olmert as leader of the Kadima party, and the failure of his successor, Tzipi Livni, to form a coalition government. Had Olmert remained in office or had Livni formed a coalition government, the elections would have been scheduled for 2010 instead.
Although the incumbent prime minister's party, Kadima, won the most seats in the parliament, the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was able to form a majority coalition government and become the new prime minister.
On 17 September 2008, Kadima held a leadership election, which was won by Tzipi Livni. Following Livni's victory, former party leader Ehud Olmert (who did not run in the contest) resigned as Prime Minister. Livni was given six weeks to form a coalition, but set a deadline of 26 October for parties to agree to join the new government.
Although the Labor Party agreed to join, current coalition members Shas rejected the opportunity, with Livni claiming that they had made "economically and diplomatically illegitimate" demands (which included a reluctance to increasing child benefits and rejecting the possible division of Jerusalem in a deal with the Palestinians). It was reported that Shas had rejected almost one billion shekels in child allowances offered to them as part of the coalition negotiations.Gil and United Torah Judaism had both rejected offers to join while negotiations with Meretz-Yachad were still ongoing. On 26 October, Livni recommended to PresidentShimon Peres that early elections be held.
President Peres had three days to consult on the recommendation, after which there was a period of three weeks in which other Knesset members could have offered to form an alternative coalition, but no such alternative was brought.
The election would have to be held within 90 days after the end of that period. Although Kadima submitted a bill to the Knesset on 27 October to call early elections and bypass the three-week period, Peres's announcement to the Knesset that there was no chance of forming a government meant that the full waiting period stood. Ehud Olmert was to remain the caretaker Prime Minister until a new government was formed after the elections.
The traditional distinction between the Israeli left and the right had become blurred, with both the voters and the main candidates gravitating toward the center. Israelis, who had always been highly politicized, were switching affiliations more easily. On the Palestinian front, stark differences among the parties still remained. Kadima was committed to continuing talks for a two-state solution. Labor did not believe that bilateral Israeli–Palestinian negotiations could succeed under the current circumstances and advocated a more comprehensive, regional approach to peace. Likud said it would promote an "economic peace" with the Palestinians and also hold political negotiations, although it was not clear about what.
After official results are published, the President delegates the task of forming a government to the member of Knesset with the best chance of assembling a majority coalition (usually the leader of the largest party, but not required). That member has up to 42 days to negotiate with the different parties, and then present his or her government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. Once the government is approved (by a vote of at least 61 members), he or she becomes Prime Minister.
By 23 December, a record 43 parties had registered with the parties registrar, compared to 31 for the 2006 elections, although in the end, only 34 parties submitted a list of candidates and only 33 ran on election day. On 12 January 2009, Balad and the United Arab List–Ta'al alliance were disqualified by the Central Elections Committee on the grounds that they failed to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and called for armed conflict against it. Balad and Ta'al were also disqualified from the 2003 election, but won a Supreme Court case which allowed them to run. On 21 January 2009, the Supreme Court again revoked the ban.
The Labor–Meimad alliance, in existence since 1999, was ended prior to the elections. Labor ran on its own, and Meimad ran a joint list with the new Green Movement.
Meretz and Tnu'a HaHadasha, a new movement of left-wing activists led by Tzali Reshef, ran a joint list, with Tnua'a HaHadasha representatives getting third, seventh and eleventh spots on the alliance's list.
Several political parties have been established since the 2006 elections. The first was Social Justice, founded by billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak in February 2007 (which in the end did not run in the election), and Yisrael Hazaka was established by the former Labor member of the Knesset, Efraim Sneh in May 2008.
The Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. Although the Likud party was placed second in the 2009 elections, because the right-wing parties won a majority, Netanyahu managed to form a coalition government after the elections and thus became the new Prime minister.
The Knesset Board of Elections released the official result:
A The four parties making up National Union had six seats in the previous elections in the combined National Union−National Religious Party slate. The Ahi party (2 seats) left the National Union and joined the Likud.
B The Jewish Home (formerly the National Religious Party) had three seats in the combined National Union−National Religious Party slate. The two parties together won 7 seats in this election for a net loss of 2.
Former Kadima Party chairwoman Tzipi Livni. Although Kadima won the most seats in the 2009 elections under her leadership, it became an opposition party.
On 20 February the President Shimon Peres announced that Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu would be given the task of forming a government. This is the first time in which the president had not appointed the head of the largest party for this task, although there had already been several cases in which the Prime Minister was not the head of the largest party. Such a case occurred in the 1996 elections, when Netanyahu himself was elected Prime Minister by direct vote although his Likud party won fewer seats than Shimon Peres's Labor party. Peres's motivation in nominating Netanyahu was likely based upon the judgment that Netanyahu was in a better position numerically to put together a coalition. Likud's potential partners on the political right won more seats than the parties of the centre-left, who would more likely support Kadima.
Labor and Kadima initially stated they would not join a Likud-led government, although both parties scheduled further talks. Polls at the time showed that the public supported a national unity government between Likud and Kadima, with either Yisrael Beitenu or Labor as the third senior coalition member.
On 16 March 2009, Netanyahu signed a coalition agreement with Yisrael Beitenu. Following an extension of the coalition negotiation deadline from 20 March to 3 April 2009, he then signed a coalition agreement with Shas on 22 March 2009, and on 24 March 2009 he secured the support of the Labor Party, with Labor's central committee approving the deal by 680 votes to 507. However, large parts of the party remained sceptical, accusing Ehud Barak of only being interested in his own benefits under the deal. On 25 March, the Jewish Home also joined the coalition.
On 30 March, in accordance with the Israeli Basic Law, Netanyahu informed Peres and acting Knesset speaker, Michael Eitan, that he was able to form a government and the Knesset was set to convene on 31 March 2009, in order to vote on the government in a "Vote of Confidence" and to be sworn in thereafter. The country's 32nd government was approved that day by a majority of 69 lawmakers, with United Torah Judaism joined the following day, expanding the coalition to 74 MKs.
On 27 March 2012, the Opposition party Kadima called for leadership primaries, pitting its leader Tzipi Livni against Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz won with 62% of the vote. Livni resigned from the Knesset in May 2012.
Earlier, Netanyahu defeated his rival Moshe Feiglin, winning 77% of the vote in the primaries for the Likud leadership held on 31 January 2012.
On the eve of 7 May 2012, after weeks of deliberation and rumours, Netanyahu called for an early general national election and proposed 4 September as the election day, a notion which seemed inevitable. However, in a dramatic turn of events, that very night Netanyahu announced that he had forged a unity government with the Kadima Party, effectively retracting the earlier call for early elections. The next afternoon, Likud and Kadima signed a coalition agreement placing Kadima's 28 Knesset members in the government, with Mofaz appointed as Active Vice Premier (in case of Netanyahu's absence) and Minister Without Portfolio. This agreement bolstered the government to the widest government in Israel's history, with a coalition of 94 seats and an opposition of only 26. But on 17 July, Kadima voted to pull out of the coalition. The coalition did, however, still have a majority of seats even without Kadima. However, the reduced coalition was now divided between nationalist groups such as Yisrael Beiteinu and Haredi groups such as Shas, which are on opposite sides of the universal draft issue. This led some commentators to suggest that the coalition's complete breakup was imminent and that new elections would take place by January 2013.
^"Basic Law: the Government (2001)". The Knesset. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 13(b): "Where the Knesset Member has formed a Government, he shall notify the President of the State and the Speaker of the Knesset to such effect, and the Speaker of the Knesset shall notify the Knesset and set a date for the presentation of the Government to the Knesset within seven days of such notification."