Netanyahu ‘weaker’ as Israel heads for new election

Israel will hold second election in less than six months after Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to build a coalition.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have secured a fifth term as prime minister but could not form a government [AP Photo]

Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared to have secured a fifth term as Israeli prime minister in April but failed to form a government, goes into the election on September 17 in a weaker position, analysts say.

For the first time in Israel‘s history, it will hold two national votes in a single year.

Netanyahu’s failure came as he was unable to reach a compromise between Avigdor Lieberman’s secular right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and ultra-Orthodox parties within his prospective coalition.

The main obstacle was a dispute over a conscription draft law, the same issue which ostensibly caused the dissolution of the government last December.

The quarrel about army service has continued for years between secular and religious parties. Many ultra-Orthodox seminary students avoid serving in the army, which is mandatory, as they are allowed to repeatedly defer their service.

Lieberman’s switch

Elie Jacobs, from the Truman National Security Project, said there might be a chance Netanyahu won’t continue to head his right-wing Likud party.

“There are so many questions right now that are up in the air, starting from whether Netanyahu will remain the leader of Likud in the coming weeks,” Jacobs told Al Jazeera. “He could very easily face being overthrown by his own party.”

Even in the case that the prime minister stands to run in September, he faces a potential challenge by Lieberman, his ally-turned-foe, with a possible split between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and Lieberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport told Al Jazeera.

“Even though Lieberman has five seats in the Knesset, he represents a large community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, around one million,” Rapoport said.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett said Lieberman turned against Netanyahu after the latter could not endorse a bill that would defend Israel from becoming, in Lieberman’s eyes, a religious state.

“Lieberman has been out this morning not mentioning Netanyahu by name, blaming Likud’s turn to ultra-Orthodoxy for the situation that it finds itself in,” Fawcett said, speaking from West Jerusalem.

“We’re really back in the same situation we were before seven weeks ago.”

Pending indictments

Rapoport said that Netanyahu “is definitely not going in this election stronger but weaker”. 

“It’s an open race,” he said, “despite his image being harmed.”

The attorney general has announced he intends to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He is facing pending indictments in three separate cases, with a hearing to argue against the attorney general’s plan due to be held in October.

“The chances of Netanyahu getting immunity from being prosecuted is getting weaker, and the chances for him to somehow escape indictment are slim,” Rapoport said. 

“In this case, I think the voters who will be going to the polls in September will be aware of voting for someone who will probably not be prime minister for long,” he added.

‘Most formidable politician’

No single party has ever won a majority of 61 out of 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, making coalition governments the norm.

According to Jacobs, the September election may lead to alliances being redrawn while new parties may enter the race.

“The calculus is going to be very strange over the coming weeks and months as different factions and parties start forming and teaming up with one another,” he said.

“There are two more former senior military personnel who will be eligible to run this fall amid noises about starting their own political party, which would be opposed to Netanyahu’s.”

But new parties face the obstacle of having to pass the 3.25 percent threshold to enter Knesset, which a number of new far-right parties failed to do in April’s vote.

“At the micro-political level, I think Netanyahu could survive,” Rapoport said.

“The 300,000 voters who voted for mostly right-wing parties that didn’t pass the electoral threshold for the Knesset will most likely cast their vote to the right-wing camp in September’s elections, an element that will play in favour of Netanyahu.”

Jacobs described Netanyahu as “the most formidable politician in Israel”.

“Unless there is essentially a patricide within the Likud, he will remain as the most likely to walk away as prime minister come September,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera