Netanyahu’s Weekend of Truth

Israeli politics remain in flux. After the Israeli election committee released the official result of the general election, it is evident that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again missed a governable majority. In addition, Netanyahu continues to face legal trouble.

Israel’s Latest Deadlocked Election

Israel’s most recent parliamentary election took place on March 2. On March 10, Israel’s central electoral committee released the official result, and with amplification of Israel’s government and Prime Minister Netanyahu, in particular. His conservative Likud party obtained the most seats in the Knesset with 36 of 120 seats, as the election committee confirmed. However, the right-religious camp around the Likud failed with 58 seats combined with the necessary majority of 61. The Blue and White party of ex-military chief Benny Gantz obtained 33 seats and the center-left camp, thus a total of 55 seats. The third-strongest force in parliament was the United Arab List with 15 mandates. Former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman received seven mandates with his Israel Beitenu party and could thus become the decisive man in the question of government formation.

High Turnout Couldn’t Turn the Tide

The turnout was around 71.5 percent, and thus higher than in the two previous elections. In April 2019, it was a good 68 percent, in September just under 70 percent. Nevertheless, the political stalemate after the third election within a year has not changed. On Wednesday, the official results were handed over to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who now has seven days to instruct a candidate to form a government. For this purpose, Rivlin seeks to meet with representatives of the individual political groups this Sunday.

This is where the real issues for Netanyahu begin. If Gantz were to be proposed by Lieberman and the Arab List in conversation with Rivlin, the president could then instruct Gantz to form a government, even though his party only came second and behind Netanyahu in the election. In the past few days, Gantz has already consulted both Lieberman and representatives of the United Arab List about a possible coalition. This scenario is, therefore, a valid option in Israel and would finally create a hoped-for government majority. It remains to be seen; however, how stable a coalition between the three parties can become.

Netanyahu’s Mounting Troubles

The potential end as Prime Minister is not the only problem for Netanyahu these days. A court in Jerusalem rejected his request to postpone the corruption process against him. There were insufficient grounds for postponement, the court ruled. The hearing scheduled for March 17 is, therefore, “reserved for reading the charges,” but Netanyahu’s response or defense is not necessary at this stage of the trial.

In a letter to the court, the Prime Minister’s lawyers asked for the trial to be postponed by 45 days. They argued that they had “not yet received all the documents related to the investigation.” Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He denies all allegations by the public prosecutor and sees himself as a victim of a “witch hunt” by the public prosecutor and the media – a term any political observer ought to be rather cognizant of.

According to Israeli law, a prime minister may remain in office; he only has to resign after a final judgment. Opposition MPs in the Knesset are considering a bill that would prevent accused politicians from forming a government.

Three elections within a year are testimony of Israel’s political issues and the division in the country. Netanyahu has once again failed to convince a majority and is thus apparently lacking the support he used to command. The upcoming weekend will likely decide Netanyahu’s future. Signs are pointing towards a coalition with Gantz at the head of the table and, in this case, taking the helm as the inevitable new prime minister of Israel.