Israel is heading for new elections as the government collapses

JERUSALEM – The divided government of Israel collapsed early Wednesday, triggering the country’s fourth election in less than two years and posing an unprecedented threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long hold on power.

Netanyahu, accustomed to labeling his opponents as weak leftists, finds himself confronted by a trio of dissatisfied former aides who share his harsh ideology, led by a popular parliamentarian who recently broke away from the prime minister’s Likud party. Whether or not Netanyahu can defend these challenges, the country is almost certain to be led by a right-wing politician who opposes Palestinian concessions, complicating the hopes of the future Biden administration to resume peace talks.

The prospects of Israel’s center-left bloc appear worse than in previous competitions, as its leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has entered into an unfortunate alliance with Netanyahu. Gantz lost the support of many disappointed bases, and the bloc was left without a leader.

Netanyahu and Gantz formed their coalition in May, after fighting for a stalemate in three consecutive elections. They said they were putting aside their personal rivalry to form an “emergency” government focused on guiding the country through the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. Under the agreement, Gantz assumed his new role as “alternate prime minister” and assured him that he would change places with Netanyahu next November, through a mid-term rotation agreement.


The immediate cause of the collapse was their failure to pass a budget by Tuesday’s midnight deadline. This caused the parliament to dissolve automatically and set new elections for the end of March.

But the deeper cause was their troubled partnership, which was plagued by mutual hostility and mistrust from the beginning. For seven months, Gantz suffered a series of humiliations and was kept informed of key decisions, such as a series of US-mediated diplomatic agreements with Arab countries. Netanyahu accuses Gantz’s blue-and-white party of acting as an “opposition within the government.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approaches the podium to speak from his Jerusalem office on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Associated Press)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approaches the podium to speak from his Jerusalem office on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Associated Press)

At the heart of this dysfunctional relationship is Netanyahu’s corruption process. Gantz accused Netanyahu of undermining their power-sharing agreement, hoping to remain in office throughout his trial, which is set to go to speed in February when witnesses take office. He and other critics believe that Netanyahu will eventually hope to form a new government capable of appointing loyalists to sensitive positions that will grant him immunity or dismiss accusations against him.

“A criminal defendant with three indictments is shooting the country in a fourth round,” Blue and White said Tuesday night. “If there were no process, there would be a budget and there would be no elections.”

Netanyahu is accused of fraud, breach of trust and acceptance of bribes in a series of scandals in which he is accused of offering favors to powerful media in exchange for positive news about him and his family. His legal issues and questions about his ability to govern have been central to the recent elections.

“The ongoing political crisis will continue as long as Mr Netanyahu remains prime minister and no government can be formed without him,” said Yohanan Plesner, a former parliamentarian who is chairman of the Israel Democracy Institute.

“I think it’s pretty safe to assume that this won’t end until either Netanyahu is replaced, or he finds a way, through legislation or political maneuvers, or he puts his trial on hold, or to suspend him altogether, “he said. .

In the last three elections, Netanyahu has failed to form a majority coalition with his traditional religious and nationalist allies. However, he controlled enough places to prevent his opponents from forming an alternative coalition.

According to recent opinion polls, that equation could change, with a number of rivals ready to control a parliamentary majority without it.

These rivals are led by Gideon Saar, a stalwart in Netanyahu’s Likud, who announced this month that he is breaking up and forming a new party. Saar, who was once Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, accused the prime minister of turning Likud into a “cult of personality” focused on ensuring the political survival of its leader.

If the election were held today, Saar’s party would end up in second place behind Likud, it seems to veto a Netanyahu-led government, according to opinion polls. Saar promised not to serve under Netanyahu.

Naftali Bennett, another former aide who fell with Netanyahu, leads a right-wing religious party that has also grown up in the polls. And Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and longtime cabinet minister, who now leads his own party, also says the prime minister is unfit to lead.

All these rivalries are more personal than ideological, which means that Israel’s next government – led or not by Netanyahu – will almost certainly have a right-wing ideology that opposes Palestinian independence and supports the continued construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Recent polls show that Gantz, who appealed to left-wing voters in previous elections, may not receive enough votes to enter the next Knesset.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid, seems to be winning some of those voters, but not enough to lead the next government, according to polls. The left-wing Labor Party, which founded Israel and ruled the country for the first 30 years, is not expected to cross the threshold, while the far-left Meretz party is expected to absorb it.

The common list of the Arab majority has been affected by the fighting and it is unclear whether any major party is ready to share power with them. An Arab-led party has never been part of an Israeli government.

In a televised address Tuesday night, Netanyahu called for his standard gambling game, blaming Blue and White for political breakdown and saying any of his challengers should rely on Lapid and the “left” to form a government. without him.

“We are against the election; this is a wrong blue-and-white decision,” Netanyahu said. “But if the election is imposed on us, I promise we will win.”

In addition to his right-wing rivals, Netanyahu will have other factors acting against him. In previous elections, he used his close alliance with President Donald Trump as an electoral asset.

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This option will no longer exist after Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20. Biden is expected to return to the policies of his former boss, President Barack Obama, who had a stormy relationship with Netanyahu for the treatment of the Palestinians. .

Netanyahu must also confront voters about managing the coronavirus crisis. Netanyahu achieved this week making Israel one of the first countries in the world to start vaccinating its population.

But it remains unclear how many people will be vaccinated by March. And Israel is facing an outbreak and the possibility of a third blockade, angry voters could continue to punish it for the economic damage caused by the pandemic.