In the recent Knesset election, many left-leaning Israelis and supporters of a two-state solution hoped Benny Gantz would replace Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition. The results surely disappointed this camp, but it is worth noting that removing the right from power altogether was not necessarily the goal of the main opposition party, Gantz’s Kachol Lavan. Rather, Kachol Lavan aimed to pressure Likud MKs to abandon Netanyahu and join them in a unity government where power would be shared among the centrist parties and the right-wing Likud. Yet, Likud and the other right-wing parties received sufficient seats to not only prevent the possibility of a center-left government, but to bypass the need for a national unity government as well. The result is that the next coalition may be even further to the right than the last one.

A unity government represents a missed opportunity for many Israelis for a couple of reasons. First, a unity government between Likud and Kachol Lavan could have prevented some of the Israeli right’s annexationist plans. Even though Kachol Lavan is not a truly dovish party or explicitly in favor of two states, it nevertheless opposed unilateral annexation initiatives in the West Bank and might have vetoed annexation bills from within the government.

The second consequence of forming an exclusively right-wing coalition is that it may further perpetuate Israel’s current political identity crisis. Israelis certainly have the right to choose who they want to vote for, but the further right each successive government moves, the less Israeli politicians seem to represent their constituents’ views.

In a Washington Post article earlier this year, Israeli political psychologist Gilad Hirschberger emphasized that, although the vast majority of Israelis identify with the right, many of them oppose annexation and in fact espouse views identified with the left. For instance, he points out that, while only eight percent of Israelis identify themselves with the left, slightly less than half of Israeli Jews still support a two-state solution and another 25 percent back separation from the Palestinians when presented with the consequences of annexing the West Bank in part or in whole. He concludes that roughly 75 percent of Israeli Jews support pragmatic steps towards separation from the Palestinians through a political agreement, while only 15 percent of Israelis actually support West Bank annexation.

Yet, despite the fact that only a slim minority of Israeli Jews support annexing the West Bank on ideological grounds, annexationist parties often find themselves with disproportionate influence in Israel’s government. There are several explanations for this trend. One is that many Israelis may be unaware of the ramifications of annexation, as displayed by the fact that many Israelis support separation when presented with its consequences. The second reason may be rooted in Israelis’ political identity crisis.

Israeli elections these days seem to be more of a battle over identity politics rather than a debate over different policy ideas. Tamara Cofman Wittes and Yaël Mizrahi-Arnaud argue that the rise of illiberal populism and the radical right in Israel are rooted in identity politics vis-à-vis the conflict with the Palestinians. This means that, rather than focus on specific policy issues, many Israeli parties base their campaign on delegitimizing their rival party by calling them traitors. For example, the many right-wing politicians focused their campaign on labeling Benny Gantz and Kachol Lavan as “leftists” who are going to jeopardize Israelis’ security by giving up more land. Because Israelis are (understandably) fearful for their security, such rhetoric may seem appealing and therefore the right receives enough votes to avoid the need for a unity government, despite the fact that such an arrangement would more accurately represent Israelis’ views. With Netanyahu’s current legal situation, things may only get worse as the prime minister promises concessions to partners further to the right in order to retain his office.

Netanyahu is desperate to form a government that will grant him immunity from prosecution and so may be more willing to accede to their demands. For example, the Orthodox parties may prevent reforms on religion and state issues while groups like the Union of Right-Wing Parties move for annexation. This paradigm will persist until the focus shifts from “winning” the election to forming a government that more accurately represents the views of the Israeli public.