JERUSALEM – Israel’s divided government 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 grip on power.
Netanyahu, used to label his opponents as weak leftists, finds himself confronted by a trio of disgruntled former allies who share his hard-line ideology, led by a popular jurist Did, which recently split from the Prime Minister’s Likud party. Whether or not Netanyahu can stop these challengers, Palestinians in the country are almost certain to be led by a right-wing politician in opposition to concessions, confounding hopes from the incoming Biden administration to resume peace talks.
The prospects of Israel’s center-left bloc are worse than in previous competitions, as its leader, Defense Minister Benny Gentz, entered into misconduct with Netanyahu. Gantz has lost the support of most of his depressed base, and Bloc is left leaderless.
After battling deadlock in three consecutive elections, Netanyahu and Gantz formed their alliance last May. They said they were putting aside their personal rivalry to form an “emergency” government focused to guide the country through health and economic crises caused by the epidemic. Under the deal, Gantz took on the new role of “alternate prime minister” and was assured that he would trade places with Netanyahu during his term of rotation next November.
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The immediate cause of the collapse was his failure to pass the budget until midnight on Tuesday. Due to this the Parliament was automatically dissolved and new elections were held in late March.
But the deeper reason was their troubled partnership, which was plagued by mutual hostility and mistrust from the beginning. For seven months, Gantz has faced numerous insults and been kept out of the loop over major decisions, such as a series of US-brocade diplomatic agreements with Arab countries. Netanyahu accused Gantz’s Blue and White Party of acting as “a protest within the government”.
At the heart of this lax relationship is Netanyahu’s corruption trial. Gantz has accused Netanyahu of undermining his power-sharing agreement in the hope of continuing in office during his trial, which is to kick into high gear in February when witnesses begin to take the stand. He and other critics believe that Netanyahu eventually hopes to form a new government, capable of appointing loyalists to sensitive positions, which may grant him immunity or dismiss the charges against him.
“A criminal defendant with three indictments is dragging the country into the fourth round of elections,” Blue and White said Tuesday night. “If there was no lawsuit, there would have been a budget and there would have been no election.”
Netanyahu has been accused of cheating, breaching trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals in which he proposes in favor of powerful media figures in exchange for positive news coverage about him and his family. His legal troubles, and questions about his suitability for governance, have been a central issue in the string of recent elections.
Yohan Plessner, a former legislator who is president of the Israel Institute of Democracy, said “it will continue as long as Mr. Netanyahu remains prime minister and no government can run without him.”
“I think it is quite safe to assume that it will not end until Mr. Netanyahu is replaced or if he finds a way, either through legislation or political maneuver, either. Stop your trial or suspend it altogether, ”he said. .
In the last three elections, Netanyahu was unable to form a majority alliance with his traditional religious and nationalist allies. Nevertheless he controlled enough seats to prevent his opponents from forming an alternative alliance together.
According to recent opinion polls, that equation may change, with many rivals ready to control a parliamentary majority without it.
Those rivals are led by Gideon Saar, a radical in Netanyahu’s Likud who announced this month that he was breaking up and forming a new party. Saar, who once served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, accused the prime minister of turning Likud into a “personality cult” focused on ensuring the political survival of its leader.
If elections had taken place today, Saar’s party would have been second only to Likud, appealing for a veto over the Netanyahu-led government according to elections. Sar swears that he will not work under Netanyahu.
Another former ally, Naftali Bennett, who was out with Netanyahu, leads a religious right-wing party that has also gone ahead in elections. And Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a longtime cabinet minister who now heads his party, also says the prime minister is unfit to lead.
All of these rivalries are more personal than ideological, meaning that Israel’s next government – Netanyahu-led or not – will almost certainly be a right-wing ideology that opposes Palestinian independence and Israel’s settlement in the occupied West Bank Support continues.
Recent polls indicate that Gantz, who appealed to leftist voters in previous elections, may not get enough votes to enter the next cassette.
Yish Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yash Attid Party, is gaining some of those voters, but not enough to lead the next government by election. The left-wing Labor Party, which established Israel and led the country for its first 30 years, is not expected to cross the border, while the far-left Meritz Party is expected to barely scrape.
The Arab-majority joint list is plagued by plight, and it is unclear whether any mainstream party is ready to share power with them. The Arab-led party has never been part of the Israeli government.
In a television address Tuesday night, Netanyahu turned to his standard playbook, blaming the Blue and White for the political breakdown, saying that none of his challengers would have to depend on the Lapid and “leftists” to form a government without them .
Netanyahu said, “We are against the election. This is a wrong decision by Blue and White.” “But if elections are forced on us, I promise we will win.”
Apart from his right-wing rivals, Netanyahu will have other factors working against him. In previous elections, he used his close alliance with President Donald Trump as an electoral asset.
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After Joe Biden is sworn in as president on January 20, this option will no longer be there. Biden hopes to return to the policies of his former boss, President Barack Obama, who had a stormy relationship with Netanyahu to treat Palestinians.
Netanyahu will also have to face voters to deal with the coronovirus crisis. Netanyahu began immunizing his population this week by making Israel one of the first countries in the world.
But it is unclear how many people will be vaccinated by March. And with Israel facing the prospect of a raging outbreak and a third lockdown, angry voters can still punish her for the economic damage caused by the epidemic.