This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP's 24/7 coverage of the US election results as they come in, with brief dispatches from correspondents and analysts from around the world. The America Votes page is free to all readers.
A strongly polarized electorate split almost neatly into two halves. A controversial, corruption-ridden incumbent struggling to control power. An election night that lasts into the morning with no clear outcome – followed by a week-long process to determine the outcome.
Dear America: Welcome to the reality of Israel.
Israel conducted three highly competitive election campaigns over a 15-month period from December 2018 to March this year. Neither was an easy proposition.
In all three election campaigns, the long-time incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to win a direct parliamentary majority for his Likud party and its right-wing allies. But neither was his main competitor Benny Gantz from the centrist blue-white party. The machinations in the back room dragged on for weeks as both sides tried in vain to cobble together a functioning coalition government.
While Israel's parliamentary system is more complicated than that of the American electoral college, some tips from the Israeli experience apply as the United States – along with the rest of the world – awaits Donald Trump's victor over Joe Biden.
Ignore victory speeches. They are meaningless in tight elections.
Gantz delivered a rousing in April 2019 after exit polls showed his blue-and-white party led Likud in the vote count. But hours later, he became a mockery when the actual results made it clear he had no viable path to the Premier League.
Netanyahu made a similar mistake eleven months later. After an election day in March this year, he crowed over his “great victory”. In fact, Netanyahu managed to secure the support of only a minority of MPs, forcing him to offer his rival – the same Gantz – a power-sharing arrangement.
Be skeptical when politicians cry badly. In functioning democracies, irregularities are the exception rather than the norm.
In the April 2019 vote, the New Right, campaigning for settlers, crossed the threshold to join parliament, missing 1,400 of more than 4 million votes nationally. The results robbed Netanyahu's right-wing bloc with three to four seats and a parliamentary majority.
The New Law alleged irregularities and requested a recount. Party leader Naftali Bennett recruited a battalion of volunteers to search election camps for lost ballots, but to no avail. After a week he admitted defeat. "We have seen irregularities in the polls and beyond, but they do not save all election results," he said. "In this phase we go further."
In the vote earlier this year, Netanyahu and his Likud party refused to confirm the results after suing (unsuccessfully) that every polling station in the country should be re-examined. However, the central election committee, headed by a Supreme Court, said the vote was fair.
Be patient. Democracy takes time.
The post-election process in Israel often takes weeks or more to run its course – from the voting, to the ceremonial consultation process between the president and the leaders of the political parties, to the inevitable horse-trading required to carry out a coalition agreement strike .
In fact, the horse trade – who runs it and how long it lasts – is regulated by law. In the second election in September last year, the process lasted three months and ended inconclusive – which forced Israel to campaign again. Americans should be grateful that re-election is not an option in the US electoral process. Imagine going through it all over again just to get the same results.
When Israel's third election also stalled, Netanyahu and Gantz signed a rotation agreement, with each leader agreeing to serve as prime ministers for half of the three-year term. A Times of Israel journalist, Raphael Ahren, jokingly advised Americans to at least think about the approach. “Yalla, rotation. Trump goes first for 24 months, Biden becomes vice president. Then they switch, ”he tweeted.