The Magician May Have Run Out of Tricks
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Last night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu failed to put together a governing coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to regain control of the Government as his time allowed by law for forming a Government ran out. Rather than permitting President Reuven Rivlin to ask the leader of a different party to try to form a new Government, Netanyahu’s Likud Party led the Parliament into dissolving itself at the last minute and to call new elections.
(This sequence of events alone ought to scream out to Israelis about the need for Israel to finally address election reform. Coalition Governments that are cobbled together of totally unconnected factions all of which only seek to protect their own self-interests, undermine the functionality of the Israeli democracy and the Knesset in particular.)
The final straw in the coalition talks was reported to be a stand-off between Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Avigdor Liebermann over a conscription bill for the men in the ultra-orthodox (charedi) community. Lieberman asserted that Bibi had agreed to his Yisrael Beitenu (Jewish Home Party’s) demand for conscription but Bibi apparently was pushed back by these very same religious parties. They too declared that they were willing to break their own agreement with Netanyahu if he made this concession to Lieberman.
The problem with these negotiations was that both the charedi parties and Lieberman were not willing to budge and Netanyahu had nowhere else to turn. Consequently, Netanyahu, seeing the window to act passing him by, opted to dissolve the Knesset just as the clock was running out. He rested his fate, therefore, in a new election and not in whether he would need to watch in embarrassment as the President would ask a Member of another Knesset faction to try to form a new Government. Netanyahu’s theory was he will do better in a new election and not need to endure being in the opposition.
Underlying these particular negotiations was also an uncorroborated report that Netanyahu reportedly had set a condition with his new coalition partners: to join his new Government all parties were required to support legislation ensuring that a sitting Prime Minister could not be indicted. In addition to their other differences, Lieberman was able to blame his decision on the conscription issue, when in essence he was knocking Bibi down and forcing elections. Here he believed he would gain more political support for his Jewish Home Party
For Netanyahu, dissolving the Knesset and calling for new elections six months after the earlier one was a major political risk. It seems likely that his Likud Party and the other right-wing parties will either coalesce and gain an enormous victory, or Bibi will be rejected by the voters in September. It is unclear that Netanyahu will have a soft landing.
Meanwhile, this upheaval in Israel is likely to upset Netanyahu’s best friend in the White House and his yet to be disclosed “best deal” ever for peace in the region. Assuming that President Trump proceeds with disclosing his long-awaited peace proposal before Israel has a new Government—not likely before the end of October—this plan will very much become an issue in the new election campaign.
Finally, the fact that there was an agreement with Israel’s attorney general to proceed with indictments against Netanyahu in mid-October, places a further cloud over Netanyahu’s effort to retain the Prime Minister post. Even if he were to win again, Netanyahu hardly would have enough time to have the Knesset pass any legislation blocking such legal proceedings.
As politics so often proves, at the end of the day it is that petty, local, issues not the major, global ones which determine who will run a country.