Israeli parliament sets March election; third vote in a year

The Israeli public overall blames Netanyahu for the impasse forcing new elections.
Sunday 15/12/2019
Repeat impasse. A 2019 file picture shows Blue and White alliance leader Benny Gantz (L), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel Esther Hayur (C) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at an event in Jerusalem.  (AP)
Repeat impasse. A 2019 file picture shows Blue and White alliance leader Benny Gantz (L), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel Esther Hayur (C) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at an event in Jerusalem. (AP)

LONDON -Israel’s political system will stay in limbo after parliament voted to call new elections March 2, pushing Israelis to the brink of despair.

The election, Israel’s third in less than a year, was deemed necessary after the failure of the country’s two leading politicians to form a viable coalition government following inconclusive elections in April and September.

Neither Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor former military chief and Blue and White alliance leader Benny Gantz could cobble together a coalition government.

In September, Blue and White won 33 seats in the 120-member Knesset, while Netanyahu’s Likud garnered 32. Both won 35 seats in the April vote. The Arab Joint List, with 13 seats after the September election, is the next largest body in parliament

“The politicians were unable to decide and so it goes back to the people and it’s a shame. There weren’t big differences,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz, a Likud lawmaker, told Israeli Army Radio.

Netanyahu is likely to focus on the legal process stemming from allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases.

He is seen as unlikely to heed calls to relinquish his immunity and the judicial examination of his immunity request could take months.

After the March election, Netanyahu could use coalition negotiations to push potential partners to support his immunity request.

Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister charged with a crime is not required to step down but ministers under indictment must resign. Netanyahu has resigned from all posts other than prime minister.

The Israeli public overall blames Netanyahu for the impasse forcing new elections. Polls indicate that around 40% of respondents blamed him for the deadlock and 5% named Gantz as the main cause.

“The suicidal tailspin on the political system this past year originated with one person: Binyamin Netanyahu,” wrote columnist Yossi Verter in Haaretz. “This election campaign, like its two predecessors in April and September, is the result of his ongoing escape from a trial that is likely to end in prison.”

The more immediate challenge for Netanyahu is to win the leadership of Likud before the election. A leadership primary vote was scheduled for late December.

The next elections are expected to be centred on voters’ stands regarding Netanyahu’s leadership ability. Israeli politics Professor Gideon Rahat told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the third round of voting would again revolve around “for Netanyahu or against Netanyahu.”

Israel has been nearly a year without a fully empowered government.

President Reuven Rivlin appealed to Israelis December 12 not to “sink into despair” in the face of the political logjam. “We must not lose faith in the democratic system or in its ability to create the reality we live in with our own hands,” he said.

The three elections could cost the economy $3.4 billion, the Manufacturers Association of Israel said.

“The country is still functioning, nothing has collapsed, schools and hospitals are still open but we are seeing a hobbled situation — budgets haven’t been passed, no long-term planning is possible,” political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin told AFP.

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