Analysis

Netanyahu's Coalition Partners Are Convinced He's Still Set on Elections

Advancing early elections doesn’t serve only Netanyahu, the serial suspect – it's also in the Likud’s interests

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with coalition partners, Jerusalem, Israel, March 11, 2018.
Marc Israel Sellem

People involved reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was putting pressure on his coalition partners and trying to resolve the crisis and lengthen the life of his coalition, which seemed to be more divided and disputatious than ever.

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Along with the flutter of sudden optimism, the suspicion remained as it had been: The consensus among the party heads is that the prime minister wants to drag his nation into artificial, unnecessary early elections due to a cold personal interest linked to the investigations against him. He prefers to face what looks like an inevitable indictment as a newly elected prime minister at the beginning of a term, and not at the end of one.

The only senior coalition member who dared to say this outright was Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. His colleagues preferred to hide behind “closed conversations” and “associates.” Bennett knows that for him and his party the next elections are do or die. That’s why he launched a battle over the narrative Sunday that will accompany the campaign from the start: What the hell are these elections about? The military non-draft bill or a cynical move by a criminal suspect who is acting like an unbridled tyrant? That won’t stop him from recommending Netanyahu to put together the next government after the elections if he has no choice.

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Advancing elections doesn’t serve only Netanyahu, the serial suspect. It is also in the Likud’s interests. According to all the polls, the Likud is expected to win big. An election that is essentially a referendum – for or against Netanyahu, the left, the media, state witnesses, the police, the prosecution and other enemies of Israel – could yield a nice number of Knesset seats for the ruling party.

For those party ministers who can already see the end of the Netanyahu era on the horizon, another term of leadership essentially assures that one of them will become prime minister after their leader is forced to resign after he’s indicted.

It is said that elections will be at the end of June (there is no other realistic time due to the law’s requirements and the summer), a new government will be formed in August, and at the end of the year indictments will be filed. The coalition won’t dissolve such a short time after it’s been established. Netanyahu will be forced to resign, despite his plans, and Likud will quickly choose a successor who will waltz into the Prime Minister’s Office that Netanyahu won.

The Israeli political arena is full of surprises. In May 2012 we went to sleep with a bill to dissolve the Knesset on the table and awoke to find that opposition head Shaul Mofaz had signed an agreement to form a national unity government, ostensibly in an effort to pass a bill to draft the ultra-Orthodox.

This time that won’t happen. The scales are still weighted heavily toward early elections. The man who dissolved a coalition and dragged a country into elections over his patron’s newspaper won’t hesitate to do it again if he thinks it could help save him from criminal prosecution.