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Netanyahu’s Future at Risk as Israel Heads to New Election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses reporters on June 27, 2016, at Villa Taverna - the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Rome, Italy - between a pair of bilateral meetings between him and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses reporters on June 27, 2016, at Villa Taverna - the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Rome, Italy - between a pair of bilateral meetings between him and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A month after seemingly winning his re-election, Netanyahu’s fate lays in peril as Isreal moves to hold a new election in September and fraud charges still loom.

Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, the Isreali Parliament, known as the Knesset, voted to disband itself and hold a new election after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a coalition government despite winning his re-election in April. The new election will be held on September 17.

The decision came one month after Netanyahu was sworn in before Israeli President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin. Dissolving the Knesset and failing to form a coalition government is unprecedented in Israel’s history. The vote to dissolve the Knesset was a dramatic move made as an alternative to conceding an opportunity for one of Netanyahu’s rivals to form their own coalition government.

After last April’s elections, Netanyahu, who has kept the post of prime minister for the past decade, was set to begin a fourth consecutive term in the same office. His Likud party won 35 seats, while his religious and nationalist allies won another 30, which seemed to put Netanyahu onto a path towards a solid majority in the 120-seat parliament – a coalition government needs a simple majority of control of at least 61 seats,

Infighting and No Compromise on Bills Plague Netanyahu

According to the Isreali-based Yediot Ahronot (Ynet) online newspaper, fighting among Netanyahu and his allies over proposed legislation crippled Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition government.

Among the disputed bills was one for the conscription of ultra-orthodox Jewish men or Haredi men into the Israeli army. Netanyahu reportedly offered Avigdor Liberman, leader of the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beytena party, and other ultra-Orthodox parties a compromise. Yet, all of them rejected the compromise offer.

Ynet explained Netanyahu’s proposed compromise as such:

According to the offer, Netanyahu proposed that the original draft bill be brought to a vote and if the Haredim refused to support the measure, the automatic deferment yeshiva (Jewish seminary) students currently enjoy would duly be annulled, according to a Supreme Court decision.

Indictment Dooms Netanyahu

Netanyahu is currently being investigated and faces charges for bribery and fraud and was accused of attempting to secure immunity for himself with proposed bills. Disagreement over those pending bills also led to the inability to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, accused Netanyahu of choosing self-preservation over following the country’s political procedures. Gantz said Netanyahu opted for “three crazy months” of a new campaign and millions of wasted dollars over new elections because he is “legally incapacitated” by looming indictments, as Ynet reported.

Gantz’ party also won 35 seats during Israel’s April elections. But despite the tie between Blue and White and Likud in the election, the right-wing parties Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu, Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu out-performed left-wing parties and were expected to form a coalition government giving Netanyahu another term as Prime Minister.

Netanyahu Vs Liberman

Netanyahu blamed Avigdor Liberman for the failure to form a coalition government which Netanyahu fell just one seat short of establishing.

Previously, Liberman’s party had joined Netanyahu’s government in 2016 and Lieberman served as Netanyahu’s defense minister. However, he resigned last November due to what he described as the government’s soft policy for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. After resigning, he called for early elections.

According to the New York Times, Liberman has defended a tough military approach to Gaza. Liberman called for introducing the death penalty for people convicted of terrorist attacks, the elimination of Hamas and the ousting of the more moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

During the last round of conflict between Israel and Gaza-based armed resistance groups, Liberman reiterated such a stance.

Under Netanyahu’s direction, Israel allowed the state of Qatar to grant Gaza hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars to prevent a humanitarian crisis and rein in worsening conditions in the coastal enclave. Liberman objected to the move.

Israeli President Weighs In

On Wednesday afternoon, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin posted a video on social media outlining the standoff and vowing that he would do whatever possible at his disposal to prevent new elections.

“My fellow citizens: I receive and read all your inquiries about forming the government. Considering the volume of inquiries that we have received on the subject, it is important for me to explain what the legal authority of the president is.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was given 28 days to form a government. According to the law, he was given an additional 14 days beyond that, which end today at midnight.

“If a government is not formed by midnight tonight, I have two options and I must take one of them within three days. The first option is to entrust any other Knesset member, except for a Knesset member who has already had the opportunity and has not succeeded. The second option is to inform the Speaker of the Knesset that there is no possibility of forming a government and that there is no alternative but to call for elections.

“To make the decision, I will again invite the representatives of the factions for consultation. Incidentally, you should know that if I inform the Knesset Speaker that I do not believe another Knesset member could form a government, Knesset members can collect 61 signatures and request that any one of the 120 members of Knesset, including those who have already had the opportunity, be given the mandate to form a government.

“You are probably wondering how this relates to what is going on at the moment in the Knesset. Well, it does not. Parallel to my authority as president, the Knesset can enact a law to disperse the Knesset. If the law to disperse the Knesset passes its second and third reading with a majority of members — at least 61 — the procedures for forming a government will cease. The Knesset will be dispersed, and unfortunately, we will go to another election campaign,” said Rivlin in the video.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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