A Familiar Face Challenges Netanyahu, Who Considers Cancelling Elections

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering the possibility of cancelling a planned September election. During April’s election, his party tied Benny Gantz’ Blue and White Party with each holding 35 seats. However, Netanyahu is part of a right-wing coalition that, combined with his Likud Party, accounted for 65 seats, giving it a majority.

Since his re-election as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu has failed to form a government. His failure to do is set against domestic charges of bribery and corruption in addition to an international climate that increasingly favors a two-state solution, something Netanyahu has made clear by his actions that he has no intention of ever supporting.

September’s election, if it even materializes, would result in nearly an entire year expended upon the simple matter of choosing a new government. Elections were held at the end of last year, providing Netanyahu with plenty of time to form a new government and enact favorable laws that would shield him from criminal repercussions, yet he was as unable to form a government in the first few months of the year as he has been since April’s election. Time and time again, it has been proven that Israel’s Knesset is growing more resistant to his leadership.

Domestically, Netanyahu is facing a pre-indictment hearing in October for a slew of charges including bribery, breach of trust, and fraud in the first case. Another includes allegations that he illegally received gifts which could be considered common among world leaders, but are outlawed or restricted in some democratic governments. Of a more serious nature, he is also charged in another case with conspiring with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper to exchange preferential coverage for leveraging his power against its media competition.

The most damaging charges are those of Case Number 4000 which alleges that the prime minister attempted to coordinate with Bezeq, a telecom supplier. In lieu of favorable media coverage, Netanyahu allegedly offered to provide business incentives.

Internationally, Netanyahu has seized the opportunity to expand his government’s control over contested areas such as the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and even to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Emboldened by a mutually-welcoming friendship with United States President Donald Trump, he has authorized extraordinary measures which are clearly designed at appealing to a far-right, conservative base. If Netanyahu paints himself as the defender of Israel and Judaism itself, solidifying his grip on the Knesset and, more imperatively, skirting the edges of the law and avoiding prosecution for his alleged criminal activity becomes more possible.

A prepared statement from Likud declared that Netanyahu is “seriously” considering an idea pitched by Yuli Edelstein, Knesset speaker, to call off the elections. After winning so many during his political career, what could possibly deter him from running another campaign for Likud? Perhaps the answer lies with former prime minister Ehud Barak, who heralded the formation of a new political party on Wednesday.

Barak, who served as prime minister from 1991 to 2001 and defense minister from 2007 to 2013, made the announcement of his return to the political fold by taking direct shots at Netanyahu.

“Bibi, the time has come – your last chance to go home of your own free will,” Barak taunted by dropping Netanyahu’s nickname. “Netanyahu’s regime, with its radical messianic zealots and its corrupt leadership must be toppled.”

The return of an experienced politician such as Barak could signal the end of Netanyahu’s reign, and his reluctance to face yet another election may be a sign that he realizes it too. If anyone can win an Israeli election, it is Netanyahu and if anyone can govern Israel, it is him alone. Yet desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes, and he is clearly reaching that point. By floating the idea of cancelling an election, he has sent a stronger signal that his hope of winning it is lower than his willingness to compromise with fellow members of the Knesset.

Of course, Netanyahu will never say as much. Instead, he will point to security threats as the reason behind cancelling the election. Tensions in the Gulf are always in flux and with Iran in political limbo, it is anyone’s guess what could happen. After all, several oil tankers have already been attacked, so it is totally within the realm of possibility that Israel could be the next target. This is the argument Netanyahu will use while supporting the idea of cancelling September’s election.

He has failed to form a government twice now this year, and the remainder of 2019 promises criminal charges for the embattled prime minister. Netanyahu’s appeal to a far-right base has only garnered him favor with the US, and his policies toward Palestinians will not earn him more votes or international support for another government ran by him. This year might be the first year in a long while that we witness a Netanyahu-free Israel.