Weary Israel to trudge back to the polls for another election next year

MKs call an unprecedented third election on March 2, 2020 after Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz fail to agree a coalition


On May 30, the 21st Knesset ended with a great bang as Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to pass a stormy dissolution vote, accusing Avigdor Lieberman of being “a leftist” for blocking his coalition and thrusting Israel into an unprecedented second election.

On Wednesday, five and a half months later, the 22nd Knesset ended with a whimper as the MKs slouched to the vote and Mr Netanyahu was nowhere to be seen for hours as the clock ran down on yet another doomed coalition-building exercise.

The once unthinkable third election beckons on March 2, 2020.

There was a sense of surrender to the last days of the second aborted Knesset of 2019. Even the most rumbustious MKs did not seem to have any energy left to argue.

The Israeli body politic is weary. By this point, just about everything was being waved through — even a bid to move election day from the customary Tuesday to Monday, genuinely to avoid a clash with Moses’s yahrzeit.

The two drama queens of the Knesset, Mr Netanyahu and his nemesis Mr Lieberman, both tried to create a stir in the last few hours.

Mr Lieberman called a press conference for 1pm but, despite their usual habit of speculating on whatever surprise he may have in store, most reporters were jaded. They were right to be.

The man who would have been kingmaker just had more blame to spread — on Mr Netanyahu, who has “no values, just interests”, and on his rival Benny Gantz, who “defrauded his voters” by not forming a national unity government.

Labour leader Amir Peretz chose to attack Mr Lieberman, saying he was “the main reason for the election, because of his incitement against Israeli Arabs and the Strictly Orthodox.”

Mr Netanyahu did not make a personal appearance, although he did release a video. Instead, his proxies spread the rumour that he was considering foregoing a request for immunity from prosecution in return for entering immediate negotiations with Blue & White to form a government and prevent the election.

But it was not clear how he hoped to suddenly surmount the main obstacle: Blue & White’s refusal to serve under an indicted prime minister and its demand that Mr Gantz go first as prime minister.

What is clear is that Mr Netanyahu is concerned by polling that suggests he is blamed for the third election and this will cost Likud and his coalition seats.

Each party is building a narrative about why Israel is being forced back to the polls and one of Blue & White’s claims — that it is because Mr Netanyahu is anxious for immunity — seems to be cutting through with the public.

Hence the prime minister’s dilemma about whether to try to use it as a bargaining chip.

But Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to voluntarily give up immunity.

While he currently does not have a majority for that in the Knesset, his lawyers believe that he can delay the immunity hearing until at least after the election, when he might have the necessary votes. And even if not, it will delay the start of his trial by at least a few months.

This is beginning to look like a rearguard action in a losing battle, though even some of his allies sounding less loyal than usual.

Former Likud whip David Bitan said ominously on Wednesday that if he fails a third time to form a government, “then I don’t want to say what we’re 

going to have to do.” As it is, this will be a different campaign for Mr Netanayhu as he will have first to fight and win a Likud leadership election against, at the very least, his declared challenger Gideon Saar.

While he is likely to win, the fact that his leadership is even being put in doubt and that a small but growing number of Likud MKs and mayors are coming out for Mr Saar, is another cloud on his horizon.


Added to this is the expected decision of the High Court next week on whether he can even be given the mandate to form a new government now that he has been indicted.

However, even if Mr Netanyahu loses the leadership election and the High Court rules that he cannot form a new government, the bottom line remains that Israel is going to have a third election in less than a year.

For the next three months, the man who caused it all will remain in office.

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