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In Israel, The Political Weathervane Continues To Point To A New Election

The legal and political stars in Israel are aligning for Knesset dissolution this Wednesday night and a new election in 90 days

The Knesset building in Jerusalem
Copyright: Chris Yunker from St. Louis, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Israeli law stipulates that if by midnight Wednesday there are no 61 signatures by members of the Knesset asking president Rivlin for a 10-day extension during which their nominee can try to form a government, the current Knesset will be automatically dissolved and a new election called in 90 days’ time.

Alternatively, a new government that enjoys the confidence of at least 61 Knesset members may be put to a vote ahead of the Wednesday deadline.

Both of these scenarios appear highly unlikely for a number of reasons. As far as the unity government between Likud and Blue and White is concerned, the left-wing elements in the latter have unequivocally declared that they will not serve under incumbent PM Netanyahu, not even for one day. This means that if a rotation in the post of Prime minister is agreed upon, Netanyahu would have to vacate the prime minister’s office in favor of the Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for two long years, an eternity in Israeli politics.

Considering Netanyahu’s age and his legal troubles, his adieu to his office, should it take place now, may very well be the final one.

Speaking of legal troubles, AG Mandelblit has officially transmitted to the speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein the indictment against Netanyahu with the full list of 333 (!) prosecution witnesses. Normally, this would start the clock ticking on a 30-day period during which the accused, in this case Mr. Netanyahu, wold have to decide whether to try and invoke his parliamentary immunity. Should he choose to do so, a special sub-committee of the judiciary committee of the Knesset would have to consider the matter. However such a sub-committee is not likely to be empaneled until Israel has a new government, placing this process and with it Netanyahu’s tial on hold until such time sas Israel gets a new government. This incentivizes Mr. Netanyahu to put his candidacy to the people once again, as his electoral position is unlikely to worsen and may yet improve.

Paradoxically, the indictments against Mr. Netanyahu may have strengthened rather than weakened his hold on the prime minister’s office since he now has nothing to lose and much to gain by staying in power through March and running on a platform of annexing to Israel the strategically crucial Jordan Valley and signing a defense agreement with the US, both of which topics were discussed last night in a phone call between him and president Trump.

During the election campaign, Mr. Netanyahu will be sure to paint Israel Beitenu’s leader Avigdor Lieberman as someone who betrayed Israeli security by not joining with him in a government that would bring these historic achievements, all in order to move the needle towards secular Israelis in the arena of secular-religious relations in Israel.

While public transport and open shops on the Sabbath are very important to many Israelis, security is always the number one issue and Mr. Netanyahu will be making a solid bet on most Israelis who care deeply about Israel’s security supporting his re-election.

Surprises are common in Israeli politics, but it appears that the next 48 hours will not be the ones to change the picture and the country will be headed to an unprecedented third in a row election.

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