Here’s why Israel is heading back to elections

Road to the Knesset

“Avigdor Lieberman is now part of the left-wing,” declared Netanyahu

Kobi Gideon (GPO)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister of Israel will be put to test for the second time in six months after failing to meet the May 29 deadline to present a majority government. Seventy-four members of the Knesset voted in favor of a bill to disband itself minutes after midnight Wednesday.

Avigdor Lieberman, who held the keys to a 65-member majority government, insisted that he had “no hidden agenda” behind his demand to pass the Haredi draft law in its original form. But every compromise that was presented to him in the remaining hours was rejected.

In the hours leading up to the midnight deadline, Netanyahu reportedly offered a far-reaching deal to Labor’s Avi Gabbay that included the Defense Ministry and shelving the controversial immunity and overrule laws. Gabbay rejected the offer, saying that while it included “steps to safeguard democracy,” the party decided against the move.

Speaking to reporters at the Knesset, Netanyahu said that Israelis chose him to be prime minister in the April 9th election, blasting Lieberman for “tricking” his own voters. “He is dragging an entire country for election for personal ambitions.” Netanyahu declared: “Avigdor Lieberman is now part of the left-wing bloc.”

Benny Gantz, the de-facto opposition leader, blasted Netanyahu for dragging the country into another round of elections instead of admitting defeat and handing over the mandate to form a government to another member of Knesset. The reason, Gantz argued, is Netanyahu’s attempt to build himself a legal fortress to avoid indictment.

“In seventy years of continuous Israeli parliamentary democracy we have not had a situation such as this,” Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Knesset, explains Jewish Insider. “In the Israeli system, the prime minister is not the person who has the most votes, but the person who has the most friends — and this time around, Netanyahu did not have enough parties which were willing to come together and overcome their differences to forge a coalition supporting his prime ministership.”

“We are going to new elections only because the prime minister wanted more than just to continue being prime minister — he wanted to undermine Israel’s entire democratic system so that he personally could avoid a legal process,” says Dr. Wilf. “At least to the credit of Israel’s democracy and parliamentary system, the new elections demonstrate that when the system is being pushed too far — as Netanyahu just tried to do, it resists.”

WHY IT MATTERS — The Trump administration is expected to roll out the first phase of the Mideast peace plan in Bahrain next month. The rollout was initially delayed until June due to the Knesset elections, coalition talks, and out of respect for Ramadan. The political situation could now force the administration to halt its planning of the economic workshop in Bahrain or put off the rollout of the political part of the plan until a new government is in place — sometime in late October or early November.

“The Trump peace plan is on ice maybe permanently,” Ambassador Daniel Shapiro tells Jewish Insider. “No one in the region is calling for it. Netanyahu didn’t want it before the April elections, and won’t want it before September’s. You can’t present it during coalition negotiations, so now you’re in November. Then Trump’s reelection politics become a factor. For now, we may see the Bahrain economic workshop take place, but it will be a ghost meeting pretend pledges in support of a phantom plan that could only come into focus much later, if and when the political program can be resurrected.”

Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller: “The Bahrain investors conference will go ahead as planned as proof of life. They can’t afford to cancel it. But if they’re smart, they’ll use the election to shelve part two,  reassess after September 17. But are they smart? If the plan has enough goodies and honey in it maybe they will think it will help Bibi. But if there’s vinegar, watch out.”

Israel Policy Forum’s Susie Gelman: “I think it’s obvious that this means another delay for the Trump peace plan. I don’t see how they proceed. It does raise the question of whether or not they move ahead with the economic workshop in Bahrain on June 25th. But all of their plan seems to hinge on betting on a horse that may not even leave the gate now.”

“As for the peace process in general we need to wait and see. Will the Israeli electorate choose differently in mid-September? Will Bennett and Shaked succeed in being elected to the next Knesset? At the least the current reality would seem to put annexation plans on hold. But as we have never been in this situation before, I don’t know how it will work for the next three months. How does Bibi govern when he hasn’t managed to form a coalition government? We are in uncharted territory here. And what if, God forbid, Gaza erupts?”

The next Knesset elections are scheduled for September 17, 2019.

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