By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The dissolution of the Knesset, unanimously agreed on by the heads of the coalition parties and approved by the Knesset, was expected, for since the second half of 2018 there was growing talk of it. As for the new election set date, 9/4/2019, it is not considered too early, since it is seven months ahead of schedule.
Firstly, these calls for early elections were to Prime Minister Netanyahu a lifeline to escape the tightening noose of three corruption cases against him, which were recommended by the police and awaiting the State Prosecutor’s Office’s decision on indictments. He was charged with taking bribes, fraud and breach of trust. For, after the calls for early elections, it will be difficult for Attorney General (AG) Avichai Mendelblit to indict Netanyahu, so that these charges would not be a key player in the election campaign of political forces. That’s why the AG’s close circles said that he would postpone his decision on the corruption probes against Netanyahu. Nevertheless, there are calls contending that reluctant Mendelblit must make the effort to conclude work on those cases before the elections, so the public could be informed before placing their ballots.
Secondly, the calls for early elections may lead to further postponement of the release of the US peace plan, known as the “deal of the century.” For even if there were the “best possible deal” for a peace settlement, Netanyahu doesn’t wish to pay the entitlements of the Israeli side, especially in light of his alliances with the right-wing pro-settlement extremists, who are ready to bring down the government.
Thirdly, early elections have constituted an escape for Netanyahu’s coalition, which has been on the brink of collapse due to a dispute over legislation aimed at drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israeli military. The Shas party and the Degel Hatorah faction within the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party are backing the bill and have reportedly said they will leave the government if the bill doesn’t pass, while UTJ’s Agudat Yisrael faction says exactly the opposite, threatening to leave if it does.
Netanyahu does not fear early elections, for it seems that it will grant him a chance to re-establish a better political position. Israeli opinion polls still expect the right-wing Likud to finish far ahead of its electoral rivals. It is expected to win 30 seats, while the center-left Zionist Union, which currently is the second largest Knesset faction at 24 seats, could fall to 9 seats. As for Yesh Atid (lit. There is a Future), it will lose one third of its seats (From 18 to 12 seats). However, the alliance between the new party formed by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya‘alon (Telem) and the party of former chief of staff Benny Gantz (Hosen L’Israel or Israel Resilience) is expected to win 14 seats, while the rest of the parties will not be far from their former positions.
In general, Israeli society is still leaning toward right-wing and religious extremism, which is consistent with the Likud’s line. This will facilitate for Netanyahu forming the next government with a majority of 63 seats, in alliance with right-wing and religious parties.
Netanyahu is runnıng this election without a real rival to Israeli leadership, and perhaps he is also the only candidate for prime minister, which would enable him to form the next government without any real obstacles.
Also, Netanyahu runs for these elections, after he had managed over the past years to expand the political and social base of the right-wing parties, made changes in the Israeli elites in a way that serves these parties, and dominated cultural and academic circles, whereas Israeli media became more inclined to the right and extremism. As for the Israeli left, it is currently experiencing unprecedented fragmentation and decay, as a matter of fact, the left itself took the form of the “right,” on the “left of the right”!!
The next elections will draw a new political map that grants new weights to different parties, thus enabling Netanyahu to update his government formation, curb his political opponents, especially if he were able to include the new players (Gantz and Ya‘alon). This way, Netanyahu will have his fifth chance to form the government, and to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 10/1/2019