Netanyahu Mulling Direct Election for PM if Coalition Talks Fail, Likud Lawmaker Says

Party whip says that if no coalition is formed, Likud will demand that voters choose between the prime minister and Benny Gantz, but party quickly backtracks

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Israeli Knesset member (MK) Miki Zohar (Center) between Israeli-Arab MK Ayman Odeh and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 11, 2019.
Israeli Knesset member (MK) Miki Zohar (Center) between Israeli-Arab MK Ayman Odeh and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 11, 2019.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering the option of holding direct elections for the prime minister if coalition talks fail, Miki Zohar, the Likud party whip in the Knesset, said on Tuesday. 

“We will ask and demand that [the election] will be a direct election of the prime minister between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz,” Zohar told the Ynet news website, adding that Netanyahu does not want Israel to have its third election ina  year.

Likud played down Zohar's statement, reiterating the current official line. “Netanyahu is not advancing the direct election law but the formation of a broad national unity government,” the party said in a statement. 

The idea for a direct election was proposed by Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Dery. Lawmaker Ayelet Shaked (Hayamin Hehadash) also mentioned the possibility at the Anti-Defamation League’s Israel Social Cohesion Summit on Tuesday, after it was raised during a meeting between Netanyahu and the leaders of the parties in the right-wing bloc on Monday.

“In the present situation, is definitely the right initiative. I support it and we also discussed it among us and the Knesset began to formulate the law … This is how we prevent these exhausting elections,” Shaked said. “I spoke with a few people from Likud and they said it was a pretty good idea. So we need to think and see if it is the right thing to do. It’s an interesting option that certainly needs to be considered seriously,” she added.

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) told the conference that he would not join a government with the left – even though he does not have clearly right-wing views on many strategic issues – but he is obligated to the traditional public that “is on the right.” He said he would define himself as more center than right, but he must follow his voters on the right. 

The chairman of the Democratic Union, Nitzan Horowitz, told the ADL conference that he did not rule out sitting in a coalition government with the ultra-Orthodox parties. “In order to break through the impasse, we are ready for a partnership that will also have Haredim in the government. Have the Haredim said something similar? No,” said Horowitz.  

Horowitz also noted his red line was sitting with extremists such as Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of Habayit Hayehudi, calling them racists. “People who in their eyes some of the citizens here are not human beings at all, so I cannot [join a government] with them because I have no common ground with them,” he said. 

Direct elections of the prime minister took place in Israel on two occasions in the late 1990s: in 1996, Netanyahu beat then Labour leader Shimon Peres, and in 1999, he lost to Ehud Barak, then leader of the One Israel alliance.