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The countdown starts for Israel's fourth early elections

December 5, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara (R) cast their votes during Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem on 9 April 2019 [Haim Zach/GPO/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Israel is witnessing urgent developments following the approval to dissolve the Knesset, as well as the start of preparations for the fourth round of early elections within two years, in an unprecedented event in Israel’s history.

This would be an occasion to discuss the reasons for the disintegration of the government coalition and the motives behind the Likud party’s disagreement with its Blue and White partner. It could present a forward reading of the results of the upcoming elections, whether in favour of the right-wing or the centre, and what impact this sudden development could have on dealing with the Biden administration and the Palestinian issue.

The Israeli Knesset voted suddenly in a preliminary reading to dissolve itself, in a step that paves the way for early elections. Thus, the bill, for which 61 deputies voted and 54 others opposed, has to be passed based on three readings before it becomes a valid law.

The bill was presented to protest the performance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. Hence, a corruption indictment was also filed against him.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister and Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz supported the bill. The move received backlash from the Likud party. It pushed the party leaders to refrain from holding new elections, claiming that the prime minister is busy dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19 and the economic crisis.

This development indicates the escalation of the political crisis among the components of the government coalition headed by Netanyahu, who has been accused of corruption and signalled as the main reason for obstructing the approval of a state budget several months ago. Meanwhile, Netanyahu called on his coalition ally Gantz to withdraw his support for the bill to dissolve the Knesset.

On 17 May, the Knesset gave confidence to the coalition government, which was expected to be headed by Netanyahu and Gantz under a rotation mechanism. Thus, 73 out of 120 deputies voted for the enactment of the government coalition, while 46 others opposed it. However, the recent development means that the government crisis has entered a new phase of escalation that might end up with dissolving the Knesset and holding new general elections.

MEMO Special: Israeli Elections

Although the Blue and White party decided to dissolve the Knesset, Gantz and Netanyahu still have time to reach a compromise. However, the question to ask at this stage is: who will surrender first, Netanyahu or Gantz? The Blue and White party still has the final say about dissolving the Knesset, considering that the Israeli public has stopped believing Netanyahu’s lies and these steps are the beginning of prosecuting him on charges of corruption.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on the Blue and White party to support the bill, which will be voted on by the General Assembly of the Legislative Council next Wednesday.

The latest data indicates that the coalition crisis reached a peak on two axes. The first revolves around a disagreement between the two parties on the 2021 state budget, and the second centres on the dispute over the Security Ministry’s investigation committee, initiated by Gantz to investigate the circumstances of the submarines deal scandal.

However, the exacerbation of the internal political crisis that threatens to dissolve the Knesset coincided with warnings about the move towards holding new general elections, which might lead to more significant problems.

The coalition partnership between Netanyahu and Gantz is indeed considered as a failure by many Israelis. Still, the worst option for the time being is to dissolve the government and hold new elections.

This requires Gantz and Netanyahu to think two or three steps ahead, as they do not know precisely what will happen after the fourth election in two years. All the current shortcomings of the government, starting with Netanyahu’s disregard for his coalition partners, the failure to handle the COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing legislative paralysis and the stalemate in appointing senior officials raises a parallel question: what changes will the dissolution of the Knesset bring forth?

There are two logic scenarios. The first will end up with equal votes for both sides which necessitates the formation of a broad government (not the National Unity Government). The second scenario centres on the possibility that opinion polls would reflect the reality on the ground, and Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc would establish a stable coalition, which will lead to forming a government with a real potential to make changes.

By all means, dissolving the Knesset means that the elections are looming on the horizon. With the increasing pressures within the Likud party on the prime minister to break the partnership with the Blue and White party, Gantz, who feels deceived, started burning bridges with Netanyahu through investigating the suspicious submarines deal, while trying on the other hand to settle the issue of the government budget.

This means that holding new general elections is probably inescapable in light of the ongoing disintegration of partnerships and the escalation of mutual attacks and accusations, not only between the coalition and the opposition, which is typical, but also within the government coalition. Especially as the confrontation between the Likud party and the White and Blue party intensifies by the day.

Read: Israel edges towards early election amid Netanyahu-Gantz feud

All this chaos means, in one way or another, that all roads lead to elections. It seems that Netanyahu is ready to give the coalition another opportunity, while preparing to formulate a strategy in response to Gantz’s move.

On the contrary, the conclusion reached by Netanyahu’s entourage indicates that despite everything, the Israeli prime minister is not yet ready for the elections. However, for Gantz, things are a bit more complicated.

Gantz’s confrontation with Netanyahu may carry hints that the former is heading towards the end of his political career in an electoral campaign that may have him losing his status, not only as a replacement to Netanyahu as prime minister, but also as a minister of war. Recent opinion polls suggest that Gantz will either be a minister in Netanyahu’s next government, if a new election is held, or a member of the Knesset and the opposition, which is a very cruel possibility for him and may bring doom to his short political life.

In conclusion, the Israeli partisan scene will witness overwhelmingly chaotic developments in the coming weeks, not only for Netanyahu and Gantz, but also for senior members of the Likud party and the Blue and White party.

If Gantz wants a binding timetable for the 2021 budget that allows him to back down, Netanyahu seems in no hurry to cooperate and has already rejected the proposed solutions. Conversely, the Blue and White party leader knows that Netanyahu feels intimidated by the whole process. However, he will never give up the rotation mechanism and step down in favour of his coalition partner, even for the sake of the elections, despite knowing that he will not ever have his turn to head the government.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.