Israelis are heading back to the polls after an unexpected turn of events which left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unable to form a coalition and gain the majority in parliament by Wednesday’s deadline.
In Israel’s 120-seat parliament called the Knesset, Netanyahu, who has been Prime Minister for more than a decade, was unable to successfully negotiate with fellow leaders of right-wing parties to gain the 61 seats needed to form a majority.
Usually, in this case, the President, Reuven Rivlin, would either appoint another member of the Knesset to try to create a government, or would recognize that a coalition could not be formed and advise the Knesset to hold another election. However, Netanyahu decided to take the government’s fate into his own hands rather than let the president appoint a new leader, passing a bill to dissolve the Knesset and force a new election.
Paths to Power
In Israel’s political system the president holds a somewhat ceremonial role and is often at the mercy of the Knesset and the prime minister. This gave right-wing Netanyahu the power to pass legislation without needing the president to sign off on it.
In a parliamentary system, the elected prime minister has a set amount of time, in Israel’s case 28 days, to negotiate with other party leaders and form coalitions to create a majority. The president gave Netanyahu an additional 14 days, yet he was still unable to negotiate a deal that would allow him to remain in power.
Just six weeks after apparently winning another term as Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu was back to square one as of midnight last night. @johnyangtv reports. pic.twitter.com/Mr08AmxxxA
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) May 30, 2019
In the Knesset, there are two major political parties, the Blue and White party and the Likud party. There are multiple ways these parties can form a government, the first being one party wins 61 of the 120 seats in the election and have an automatic majority. The second option is whichever party wins the largest percentage of seats, but not enough to make a majority, then forms a coalition with the smaller parties to make up at least 61 seats.
This will be the first time in Israel’s democratic history that there will be an election twice in the same year because a coalition could not be formed.
The obstacle between Netanyahu and forming a coalition was one man, Avigdor Lieberman.
The former defense minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition because he wants a new bill mandating a quota of ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the military like most Israeli men have to do, which Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies oppose.
“The State of Israel is going to elections because of the Likud’s refusal to accept our proposal,” Liberman said to the Jerusalem Post. “This is a complete surrender of the Likud to the ultra-Orthodox. We will not be partners in a government of Jewish law.”
Lieberman’s party holds five seats in the Knesset which would have given Netanyahu 65 seats and the majority needed to hold onto the prime ministership. However, Netanyahu was unable to compromise with Lieberman because he would lose the support of the ultra-Orthodox party, which holds 16 seats in the Knesset.
This left Netanyahu in a tough spot. However, he still had a majority when it came to voting power in the Knesset because although Lieberman is not compromising on his bill to mandate military service, he still backs Netanyahu for prime minister over left-wing Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. This allowed the bill to pass in a 74 to 45 vote and triggered new elections to be held on September 17.
There are now questions of whether Netanyahu will remain leader of the Likud party or whether he will be ousted before the next election.
“There are so many questions right now that are up in the air, starting from whether Netanyahu will remain the leader of Likud in the coming weeks,” said Elie Jacobs from Truman National Security Project to Al Jazeera. “He could very easily face being overthrown by his own party.”
Netanyahu is also facing legal troubles after being charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust following a two-year investigation.
Before the breakdown of negotiations, he was trying to put together a government that would grant him immunity in his criminal cases. this cut off the possibility of him reaching across the aisle and forming a coalition with more centrist parties, which would likely not forgive his charges.
בגלל אוזלת יד וחולשה של אדם אחד נכפו על המדינה בחירות מיותרות. בגלל ׳מבצר משפטי׳ של אדם אחד נכפה על מליוני נפשות להמתין שמישהו יואיל בטובו לדאוג לביטחון, לחינוך, לתשתיות, ליוקר המחייה. מה ביבי יאמר לישראל? מדינה יקרה, זה לא את זה אני? (1/3)
— בני גנץ – Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) May 30, 2019
Netanyahu’s biggest competitor, Gantz, will have another shot at Prime Minister in the next election. The 59-year-old narrowly lost in the first election held in April and will lead his party once again in the upcoming election according to Blue and White party member Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu will stay in power until a new election is held later this year.