Israel heads for March election

The collapse of the coalition means a fourth vote in two years


Benjamin Netanyahu used a joint ceremony with Donald Trump’s special advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Monday afternoon to acknowledge that the attempts to reach a deal to prevent the Knesset’s dissolution had failed. It was perhaps symbolic as the event was to recognise Mr Kushner’s key role in brokering the “normalisation” agreements between Israel and four Arab states - and those agreements will be central part of Mr Netanyahu’s election campaign. 

He was quick to blame the man who was still ostensibly his partner in government, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. “We worked very hard to prevent unnecessary elections,” he said. “We reached agreements with Blue and White but I regret that due to internal pressure within his party, Benny Gantz decided to renege and that is dragging the country to unnecessary elections at the height of the coronavirus crisis.” 

The prime minister didn’t mention the original reason for his coalition’s demise – his refusal to abide by the agreement he signed with Mr Gantz in May, in which Likud committed to passing a state budget for both 2020 and 2021. On Tuesday at midnight the deadline for passing the budget will have expired and Israel is now headed for an election on 23 March, its fourth election in just under two years. 

On Monday morning it looked as if a compromise to postpone the deadline had been reached. The two party leaders had agreed to set up a joint mechanism for senior appointments in the legal establishment and a new timetable for passing the budget. All it needed was for a majority in the Knesset to vote for an amendment that would change the budget deadline. But as Mr Gantz met with Blue and White’s Knesset members in the early afternoon it became clear that he had lost control over his party as at least half a dozen of them made clear they would not vote to postpone the deadline if it meant the prime minister, currently facing criminal charges, would have a say on legal appointments. 

Mr Gantz was forced to relay the new position to Mr Netanyahu, ending their conversation sardonically with “it was a nice ride.” 

But as Israel gears up for yet another election, the circumstances and division of blame for the government’s demise after just eight months are no longer relevant. Mr Gantz has already thoroughly discredited himself by going in to coalition with Mr Netanyahu, despite repeatedly promising voters he would not do so. Blue and White has split as a result and what remains is now on just five seats in the polls, down from the thirty-three it won back in the March election. 

The real threat to Mr Netanyahu is on longer coming from the centre left but from the three right-wing parties now promising to replace him, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and the new party registered just this week, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope.

All three right-wing party leaders are former aides of Mr Netanyahu and all are now promising to replace him. The battle for Israel’s future and for Mr Netanyahu’s political survival will be fought in this election on the right.

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