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‘Very tight spot’: Will Netanyahu go for early elections or woo the far-right?

June 11, 2024 at 3:20 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Ramat Gan, Israel on June 8, 2024 [Jack Guez-Pool/Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, finds himself walking a political tightrope as he confronts several challenges that could threaten and, perhaps, end his grip on power.

International pressure against Israel’s war on Gaza, which has now killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, is mounting by the day while, at home, Netanyahu is facing growing demands for early elections and an increasingly divided coalition.

Last week, War Cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot resigned and called for early elections. While their departure does not pose a significant threat to Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition retains its parliamentary majority of 64 seats, it provides more evidence of political turmoil within Israel.

On the international front, Netanyahu seems to be losing support from his biggest ally, the US, with a Washington-backed ceasefire proposal that aims to end Israeli’s eight-month assault on Gaza endorsed by the UN Security Council on Monday.

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All of this has placed the Israeli Premier in a “very tight spot”, according to Neve Gordon, a Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Queen Mary University of London.

“The fact that Gantz has left does not jeopardise the coalition … but it does add another nail to the coffin of this government in terms of legitimisation, both in the international and local arena,” he told Anadolu.

Gordon believes there is a possibility that Netanyahu himself will call early elections, outlining two main reasons: “One is that during time of elections, no one can topple his government, neither the ultra-orthodox or the right-wing (Itamar) Ben-Gvir and (Bezalel) Smotrich.”

Secondly, he said, Netanyahu has been recovering some of the ground he lost in opinion polls.

“In the past few weeks, he has been going back up in the polls. He is very good at elections and he thinks he might be able to win,” said the Israeli academic.

If Netanyahu calls an early election, it will guarantee him three more months in power, he explained.

Gordon, however, also sees this strategy as risky.

“He is making a bet on his side that he’s going to win, so it’s not clear that he will use it,” he added.

Far-right support

National Security Minister, Ben-Gvir, and Finance Minister, Smotrich, both extreme far-right figures, are part of Netanyahu’s coalition, but not included in his War Cabinet – a position that both of them have repeatedly said they want.

The two are bent on continuing the deadly war on Gaza and threatening to quit the government if Israel goes for a ceasefire.

“Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich can topple the government immediately because they have enough Knesset members and they are telling them very clearly that they are against the ceasefire,” said Gordon.

He said the two are “leading Israel on a kind of messianic, fundamentalist path to continue the genocidal process in the Gaza Strip and ultimately create Jewish settlements in the area.”

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“Netanyahu is trying to navigate between their desires and wishes and between the pressure to reach an agreement about the release of hostages, which he is facing from both within and from the international community that is tired of this war and the amount of destruction,” said Gordon.

‘Gantz is the West’s choice’

Many reports circulating suggest the US is backing Gantz to replace Netanyahu, and Gordon agrees with this assessment.

“Benny Gantz is the West’s choice. He’s the new kid in town and that’s what the West would like to see,” he said.

However, he pointed out that Gantz, a former deputy and alternate prime minister, is “not very different from Netanyahu” in terms of his policies.

“That’s the irony. He talks the liberal talk but in terms of his policies towards the Palestinians … he is very similar to Netanyahu,” said Gordon.

Multiple pressures

The Israeli academic said Netanyahu is also facing other threats to his rule that have flown under the media radar.

“In the international media, some of the pressures are being reported and others are not. One pressure is that the Biden administration is pressuring Netanyahu to accept a hostage deal and a ceasefire that members of his coalition are against … and they are threatening to topple the government,” he said.

“Another pressure that is not being reported so much in the international press is a Supreme Court decision regarding the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the military.”

They are also members of Netanyahu’s coalition and he depends on their support, Gordon explained.

“The court has intimated that it is going to demand the conscription of these ultra-Orthodox Jews and, if it does, then there’s a good chance that the ultra-Orthodox will topple the government,” he said.

For Netanyahu, Gordon believes there are two main reasons why he wants to cling on to power: “He’s afraid he’ll go to jail and he’s afraid of how he will be remembered in history.”

He said the Israeli Premier knows that “if the war ends, there will be elections and if he loses elections, there’s three trials against him, corruption trials, and there will be a national investigation into the failures of 7 October.”

“It’s clear that Netanyahu has to go … I don’t know when, but at one point he will go,” said Gordon.

“My fear is that the regime that will remain will not have the capacity to lead to any major change.”

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