Bibi tries to scrap vote as Gantz rejects national unity coalition

The chances of cancelling the election were extremely slim to begin with so why did Mr Netanyahu even try, asks Anshel Pfeffer?

June 27, 2019 15:10

Four weeks after dissolving the newly-elected Knesset and plunging Israel into an unprecedented second election, Benjamin Netanyahu is experiencing buyer’s remorse. Various emissaries, including Knesset Speaker Yuri Edelstein, have been working on his behalf to try to find a way to dissolve the Knesset’s dissolution and prevent the September 17 election.

There are multiple problems with Mr Netanyahu’s ploy. First, it is unclear whether it is legally possible to revoke the Knesset’s dissolution and cancel an election which has already been called.

But even if a legal stratagem is found and it withstands the inevitable High Court petitions, it would require a Knesset majority which Mr Netanyahu may not be capable of mustering.

And even if he could overcome these obstacles, the only reason for him to stop the election train would be to form a coalition. But just four weeks ago, Mr Netanyahu failed to form a coalition because Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party wouldn’t join his government. So what could have changed in the interim?

Mr Netanyahu, both through private channels and in public through his proxies, has been pressuring Blue and White to join a national unity coalition. His people have also approached individual MKs from the party trying to entice them to defect but to no avail. On Wednesday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz asaid his party was sticking to its commitment not to sit in government with a prime minister facing criminal charges.

“Netanyahu pressed the dissolution button and there’s no way back,” he told a press conference. “If there was a legal option of cancelling the election and forming a wide national unity government without Netanyahu, we would support it. Netanyahu has brought upon himself this election and we will win it.”

The chances of cancelling the election were extremely slim to begin with so why did Mr Netanyahu even try?

One possible explanation is that the polling he is looking at shows that the public is angry at having to go to the polls a second time in 2019 and that, so far, it looks as if after the election Likud will have even less chance of forming a coalition without Mr Lieberman’s MKs. So the prime minister is clutching at straws.

He also hopes that by making a belated public move to prevent the election which he called, some of the blame may shift towards his opponents, Gantz and Lieberman, who are now refusing to postpone the election.

This was a good week for Mr Gantz. He kept his party united in the face of a concerted attack by Mr Netanyahu, who is increasingly showing his vulnerability. But other developments on his left flank, are causing problems for the man who wants to be Israel’s next prime minister.

Less than two hours after his press conference, another one took place with another aspiring and former prime minister. After six and a half years out of politics, Ehud Barak announced he was founding a new party. It hasn’t yet got a name or an agenda beyond Mr Barak’s promise “to topple the Netanyahu regime.” That was supposed to be Blue and White’s ticket and Mr Barak, who beat Mr Netanyahu in the 1999 election only to last less than two years as prime minister, was intentionally vague on how he plans to cooperate with the other opposition parties.

Mr Barak, a much more forceful and experienced politician than any of the other leaders of opposition parties, is an effective campaigner who has no fear of the formidable Netanyahu campaigning machine. But his entry fragments the opposition and gives Likud renewed hope of remaining the largest party after the election.

The parties have until August 1 to hand in their candidates lists and mergers are still possible. Mr Barak could join Blue and White, whom he called dismissively “my soldiers”. Or he could seek an alliance with Labor, the party he lead twice but split with acrimoniously in 2011. Neither would be easy partnerships. But running as a separate party is unlikely, if he’s serious about “toppling the Netanyahu regime.”


June 27, 2019 15:10

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