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The dissolution of Israel's parliament could save Netanyahu from prosecution

People protest against the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on 21 September 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
People protest against the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on 21 September 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Last week, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed a bill to dissolve itself. While the ruling Likud was allegedly not in favour and so did not support it, the bill was passed anyway, by a vote of 61 to 54. Now it must go through the Knesset Committee and three more readings before another General Election is called. It will be the fourth in two years.

According to the Chairman of the Knesset Committee, Eitan Ginzburg, if parliament is dissolved early due to the lack of an approved state budget, the election will be on 2, 9 or 16 March next year. The Chairwoman of the Israeli Central Elections Committee, Orly Adas, was reported as saying that the committee would be ready for the election on 22 March if the Knesset is dissolved prior to the final approval of the dissolution bill.

Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party feel that they were deceived by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they agreed to join the coalition government six months ago. They voted for dissolution and blamed Netanyahu for committing an "economic terror attack" as he refuses to allow the approval of the 2020 and 2021 budgets.

Gantz told the Knesset: "I entered the government with a heavy heart but with a whole heart. Netanyahu promised unity; he said there wouldn't be tricks and games. But he doesn't fulfil his promises and the public ultimately pays. Netanyahu didn't lie to me; he lied to you. He didn't dupe me; he duped the citizens of Israel."

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid proposed the bill. "The dissolution of the Knesset is not a victory," he tweeted. "It's the first step towards a different government." Addressing Netanyahu's Likud in the Knesset, he added: "You don't have a clue what you're doing. You took the incredible abilities and resources of the Israeli public and made everything political. It's all political interests and the prime minister's legal strategies, and tax benefits for Netanyahu and jobs for your friends."

Although he claimed that he was not happy with the dissolution of parliament, and called for Gantz to "stop the free-fall into elections", Netanyahu's own actions led to this position.

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The coalition whip, Miki Zohar, Netanyahu's ally within the Likud, accused Blue and White and the opposition of again "dragging" Israelis to the ballot box. "The only thing in common between the factions that make up the opposition and Blue and White is their ambition to harm Netanyahu's tenure," he tweeted. "This is a sad moment for the Israeli people."

After speaking with Israeli journalists from across the political spectrum, I am sure that Netanyahu led the Israeli factions, including his partners in government and the opposition, to propose the bill. His intention is to get out of his coalition promises, particularly the rotation of the prime minister, without being blamed by the public.

"It is clear that Netanyahu does not want to pass an unusual budget and to let Gantz go into the prime minister's office in 2021, as per the rotation agreement," Oren Ziv told me. "It seems that Netanyahu prefers elections later in the year, when the coronavirus is less prevalent, and maybe the vaccine will arrive in Israel."

He said that different polls suggest that the right-wing bloc might get stronger in the election, and that will allow Netanyahu to form a government with the "centre parties" and be able to pass legislation that will save him from prosecution. "In the current government with Blue and White, this is not possible."

A recent poll reported by the Israeli media showed that none of the Israeli parties can form a government without the Likud. It is forecast that Likud will get 29 seats, Yamina 23, Yesh Atid 18, the Arab Joint List 12, Blue and White 10, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas eight each, United Torah six and Meretz five.

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"Netanyahu is planning to stay as PM as long as possible in order to avoid his trial," said Ziv. "This is why he took Israel to three rounds of elections; this is why on the first lockdown he shouted down the court and delayed his hearing. In general, the feeling is that he is using the coronavirus and the lockdowns to create fear and instability, so he can continue muddying the waters."

Baruch Yedid, an Israeli journalist from the Likud and close to Netanyahu, told me that the Israeli right is stronger against the background of the rise of US President-elect Joe Biden. "At the same time, though, it is scattered across a multitude of bodies." He expects Netanyahu to win the prime minister's position outright in the coming election because the "Likud and the right vote out of emotion and faith." This way, he could avoid prosecution.

To reinforce his position, Ziv pointed out, "Netanyahu is doing everything himself, even in the new 'peace' deals or bringing the vaccine to Israel, without any team work. He is taking all the credit for himself."

Netanyahu is fighting, successfully it seems, to keep his position as the head of the Likud and the head of the Israeli government in order to avoid going to prison. He believes that he is pushing himself further from the prison gate as long as he remains prime minister. To achieve this, he has not only deflected the public's anger, but also manipulated his political opponents so that they take the country to the point where he wants it to be: the dissolution of the Knesset; another General Election; and himself returned as prime minister yet again.

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

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