Netanyahu is pushing Israel towards a 4th election

It has been two months now since the formation of the “Unity” Government in Israel, but there is not a week that passes by where the two main parties – Likud & Blue and White (Kachol Lavan) aren’t clashing over disagreements pertaining to different laws and policies. But it seems now more than ever, with the decision of the District Court in Jerusalem indicating that the evidence stage in Bibi’s trial will “gear up”, Netanyahu has decided to go to a 4th election.

Netanyahu’s justification for a new election will probably be over the state budget. For a year and a half now, Israel’s bureaucracy is working on a minimum budget, due to the political instability and lack of governance in the country. In the Coalition agreement with Kachol Lavan, it was decided that a 2-year budget will be approved for the years 2020-2021. This was decided mainly in order to prevent the “Machers” (From Yiddish –  or מעאכר or “Fixers”) from dismantling the Coalition. It was also decided that if the 2-year budget is not approved, and we go for a 4th election, the leader of the Party who supports the budget will serve as the PM of the transitional government. Netanyahu, who for many years used a 2-year budget specifically to lower the risks of being manipulated by his allies, decided he wants a 1-year, or more precise to say a ½ year budget for 2020. The official excuse used is that due to the CoVid-19 pandemic it is hard to make long term plans. While true, it should also be noted that the government can always adjust the budget based on needs. The budget adjustment has been implemented many times before in the past. For instance, when Israel faced significant security challenges, and adjustments needed to be done, they were done. It’s as simple as that.

So, what happened? Why is Netanyahu trying to manipulate Benny Gantz and go to a 4th election as all signs show? Let’s start with the HOW first. Netanyahu is a masterful politician. His calls towards Gantz are always about “show responsibility” trying to pin Gantz with his back to the wall. Bibi’s tactics are in place to prove that he was doing everything from a patriotic approach, trying to show that his only interest is for the state. So, in case his plans work, he can point at Gantz and say “I did my best but Gantz refused to go along because of his political interests”.

It is important to explain that by Israeli law if a government is formed when a budget is not approved, the government has 100 days to approve a budget. If the budget is NOT approved by that time, the government is automatically disbanded and a new election is declared. The current government was sworn oath in on May 14th 2020 and the last date for this current government to pass the budget is August 25th.

And now for the BIG WHY. Why does Netanyahu want a 4th election? Netanyahu is not a risk-taker by nature. The polls show a big disappointment in his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bad and narrow decision making, full of personal & political motives, and lack of leadership from public officials, in general, have lowered the public’s trust in the government and the PM. But with the upcoming Evidence phase in his corruption trials, Netanyahu had a sudden change of mind. Netanyahu has no thought of stepping down and resigning, but the evidence phase of his trial, which begins in January is set for 3 consecutive days a week (Monday to Wednesday), and it will take much of his time.

That being said, Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading in the polls by far. Even though they lose 6 mandates in the polls, these lost mandates will stay within the right-wing bloc, as Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party is growing to somewhere between 14-16 mandates. Along with the consistent mandates coming in from the Ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (Sephardic), and United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi), he may be able to form a government, as the polls give them a total of 61-62 mandates (To form a coalition one need 61 out of 120 Knesset members votes), what he was unsuccessful of doing in the past 3 election terms. On the other side – Even though Yair Lapid and his party Yesh Atid are growing to 18 mandates, Kachol Lavan is crashing to 9-10 mandates while the Labor party, who was a long time ago the biggest party leading Israel for many years, is wiped out completely. Netanyahu was always successful in eliminating political threats, but he was also successful in dismantling the “Centre-left” wing in Israel, as they are now left with no leadership. With Naftali Bennet in his pocket (Bennet may trigger Netanyahu, but Netanyahu knows Bennet will never turn his back on his “Base”), Netanyahu may take the risk, as there is no real contender to challenge him as a candidate, which is why the Likud stays the largest party by far.

While the demonstrations and public wrath may be growing, there is still no “Knight on a white horse” (a leader who can challenge Netanyahu) for the left-wing. The “Centre-left” has lost more than 12 mandates of voters. Voters who mostly voted for the Labor Party in the past, and then most likely to Kachol Lavan, find that they have nobody to support not, because Benny Gantz & Amir Peretz’s entrance to the government, broke their faith in change, and these voters now have no political home. Lapid is not an alternative for them (Shown well in the polls, as in theory, Lapid should have been with 25-30 mandates in the polls by now).

What will probably happen is that a new “Centric” party will rise – probably the Self-employed and small business owners party. This party will be their hope for a change but will end up joining the coalition with Netanyahu and once again we will have a party that is supported by a left-wing base and providing a safe haven to Netanyahu. In the last couple of days, many voices are calling another retired Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, to step up and lead the alternative. Eizenkot has many rights and privileges, but history has proven that there are no magic tricks and shortcuts in politics, and there is no substitute for seeing politics as a Marathon run and not a short run. If Eizenkot or any other “new” knight is entering the game they need to learn from Begin & Netanyahu, who led the opposition and took over power from there. There was never a 5th wheel who was able to replace the leadership.

The next days will show if Netanyahu is determined to break the coalition. He can try and compromise with Kachol Lavan so we will see.

About the Author
Yaakov (Kobi) Cohen is an Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem and now reside to New York City where he works in a Jewish Non-for-Profit. As a political activist, Cohen is most interested in the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its impact on the future of the Jewish world and seeking to build bridges between Israelis & Jewish Americans, or at least establish a different dialogue. Kobi is a co-founder of Israel Shelanu and Host of BALAGAN - Explaining Israeli Politics Podcast
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