Israel’s first legislative election was held in 1949. Its second election was held in 1951, the third in 1955, and the fourth in 1959. Yet for Israelis and interested observers abroad, the trauma of three successive campaigns in the space of eleven months means that every subsequent election is going to be numbered relative to the so-called “first election” of April 2019. Now, Israel may be headed to a “fourth election,” which could take place in November.

The speculation about another election stems from a report by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz earlier this week citing anonymous individuals close to Benjamin Netanyahu indicating that the prime minister would seek to trigger new elections by obstructing the passage of a state budget. Other sources of dissension within the government are already present, including ultra-Orthodox anger at Likud for allowing its members to vote their conscience on legislation banning the practice of gay conversion therapy to the bungled coronavirus response and protests against the prime minister.

Of course, there is no concrete proof that this phantom election is actually in the offing. The prime minister denied the reports, and his Likud party has naturally attributed conjecture about elections to rival-turned-coalition partner Benny Gantz’s Kachol Lavan. The specter of the coronavirus pandemic hangs over everything and the execution of an election raises serious logistical concerns, especially considering the fact that Israel has no system of absentee voting as exists in the United States. With the exception of a select group, including those serving in the armed forces, diplomats stationed overseas, and prisoners, all Israelis wishing to cast a ballot in a fall 2020 election would have to go out to their respective polling places, regardless of the current public health situation. If the coalition collapses over a budget crisis, Netanyahu will continue to lead as interim prime minister until an election can be held and a new government is formed, as was the case from December 2018 until April of this year.

There is also the possibility that Netanyahu is simply holding up the threat of another election as a scare tactic to pressure his coalition partners in Kachol Lavan and keep Gantz in line.

But let’s assume for a moment that new elections are called. This leads us to two likely outcomes, with the evergreen caveat that a lot can change in four months:

A Reconfiguration of the Current Government

After two inconclusive elections and one that resulted in Prime Minister Netanyahu retaining his office and bringing his three-time competitor Benny Gantz into a government with him, Israelis are quite familiar with “more of the same.” Thus, it is reasonable to consider an outcome in which a fourth election produces a government that looks quite similar to the current one, with familiar faces from Likud, Kachol Lavan, and the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Netanyahu would certainly have incentive to pursue such a coalition. The exercise of going through an election would likely see Likud shed a few mandates, but Gantz’s already splintered party could lose roughly a third of its seats. Gantz is unlikely to find a warm reception among the fractured center-left opposition and the predominantly Arab Joint List, whose voters he burned by going over to Netanyahu after running three campaigns largely directed at the prime minister’s character and conduct. For his part, Netanyahu will make no issue of bringing Gantz back into the fold.

This would be a good opportunity for Bibi to remind his junior partners in Kachol Lavan of their place. Since his decision to join Likud in government, Gantz has demonstrated what can be described at best as extreme political naïveté. Under most circumstances, Netanyahu would prefer a pliable centrist with an ambiguous ideology to working with an ambitious politician on his right flank, like Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, or Avigdor Liberman. At the same time, this could allow Netanyahu to seek a more favorable allocation of cabinet posts and even reclaim some important ministries, namely the justice portfolio (critical, given the prime minister’s legal troubles), currently held by Kachol Lavan.

The problem with this scenario is that, as of now, the numbers don’t quite work out. Gantz and Netanyahu each lose a few seats. Most polls show three current coalition partners, the tiny Gesher and Derech Eretz factions and the rump Labor party, falling below the electoral threshold. Further complicating things is the fact that the margin of error for many Israeli polls is equal to, or in some cases greater than, the electoral threshold of 3.25%. While Gesher, Derech Eretz, and Labor only represent five seats in the government, their presence can make-or-break the viability of another center-right coalition. Thus, this outcome hinges largely on just a few percentage points.

A Far-Right Coalition with a Resurgent Yamina

This outcome envisions a coalition consisting of Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Yamina.

Under the cover of coronavirus and coalition dysfunction, the far-right Yamina party has surged in the polls. Party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked nearly saw their political careers meet an untimely end when their faction, then called the New Right, slipped below the threshold last April. But two subsequent rounds of elections rescued the duo, and they are back in the Knesset, albeit in the opposition.

Bennett and Shaked’s ultimate aims are widely understood to be taking over the leadership of Likud and the right-wing bloc once Bibi leaves the scene. The prime minister perceives them as rivals and both Yamina leaders have earned the ire of his wife and close confidant, Sara Netanyahu. When Yamina pulled just five seats in March, and with the breakup of Kachol Lavan, Netanyahu was happy to ignore Bennett and Shaked.

A lot can change in four months. A few weeks ago, Yamina was polling at 10-11 seats, doubling its current presence. Now, many polls put the party comfortably in the neighborhood of 15 mandates. Under such circumstances, it will be far more difficult for Netanyahu to simply cast Bennett and Shaked. If Yamina can maintain its momentum, it will make this scenario more likely vis-a-vis Netanyahu’s need to secure a majority in the Knesset.

Whatever Netanyahu’s personal squabbles with Bennett and Shaked, he could stand to gain from their inclusion in a coalition, at least in the short term. For one thing, their anti-judiciary positions will align with the prime minister’s personal interests as his corruption trials enter the witness stage early next year. Handing off the Kachol Lavan-held justice portfolio to Shaked or a right-wing Likudnik would be advantageous for Netanyahu given his legal troubles and would help both parties accomplish their own objectives.

There would be a trade-off, and it could very likely be West Bank annexation. Partnering with the centrist Kachol Lavan gave Netanyahu some leeway on annexation, although the window in which the current government is allowed to proceed with formal annexation only opened a few weeks ago and the matter is far from settled. Yamina, whose raison d’etre, other than being a vehicle for its leaders’ personal goals, is to advance a revanchist vision of Greater Israel. Thus, Bennett and Shaked would likely demand a firm line from the prime minister on the West Bank. Disaffected annexationists who fear the prime minister may not carry out their expansionist vision (or will only seek a highly circumscribed version of it) may even boost Yamina’s fortunes in a future election. There will be less competition for national-religious votes too, given the pending demise of Rabbi Rafi Peretz’s Bayit Yehudi.

Absent: A Shattered Opposition

According to a recent Channel 13 poll, 61% of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. However, Bibi’s loss of public favor is not the opposition’s gain. Despite the electorate’s fading confidence in the prime minister, his Likud party is still projected to secure more than 30 seats, and is all but guaranteed to be the largest faction in the Knesset, with a lead of ten-plus mandates.

For all of the troubles Netanyahu has encountered since March, he has come away with one major achievement whose downstream effects may even outlast his current premiership: that is, the fracturing of the Israeli opposition.

Kachol Lavan represented Netanyahu’s most serious challenge since Tzipi Livni’s Kadima finished ahead of Likud in 2009. From September 2019 until March of this year, Gantz’s party even eclipsed Likud as the largest faction in the Knesset.

The onset of the coronavirus crisis gave Netanyahu an opportunity to entreat his rival to join him, “for the good of the country.” Gantz, still a political novice after three elections, put everything on the table and got nothing in return.

Gantz’s about face didn’t just rupture his alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Yaalon’s Telem. It broke the already weak ideological bonds holding the entire Israeli center-left together. Labor, reduced to three members of Knesset on a joint list with Meretz, Gesher, and Yair Golan’s one-man Israel Democratic Party, split, with Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli joining Netanyahu’s government. Gesher’s Orly Levy Abekasis headed for the coalition as well. This means that leftist Meretz votes helped send three ministers into a Netanyahu government. The Joint List twice recommended Benny Gantz as prime minister, marking only the second and third times in Israeli history that an independent Arab faction has supported a Jewish Zionist candidate, and the first time since 1992. Gantz rewarded their courageous break with a counterproductive but deeply entrenched political tradition by backing a prime minister who has engaged in vile race-baiting against Israeli Arabs writ large and politicians like Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi specifically.

I do not consider any kind of center-left coalition possible because it simply does not work with the current numbers. The margin is not even close. It is not a given that Kachol Lavan would be welcomed by its erstwhile partners in the opposition. Even if it were, Gantz would likely be deposed as its leader (possibly by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi) and it is unclear whether Kachol Lavan’s presence would help or hurt Yesh Atid. Meretz has doubled in size in most polls, but Labor’s extinction would make that a net-zero gain for the severely diminished Zionist left. Avigdor Liberman, whose anti-Arab and anti-leftist invective once rivaled Netanyahu’s in its intensity, was always an awkward fit with his center-left partners. There is no sign that Liberman is abandoning Yisrael Beiteinu’s position as a one party bloc and joining the prime minister, but his relationship with the rest of the opposition is ambiguous at best. The Joint List fields a sizable 15 seats and is likely to maintain or even slightly exceed that number if another election is held in the near future. But Ayman Odeh will not be eager to recommend another centrist politician as prime minister following his experience with Gantz. After all, the old adage goes “fool me once,” not “fool me thrice.”