Analysis

The Only Reason Netanyahu Would Try to Nix the New Election

Netanyahu has just floated a new, unprecedented idea: Canceling the new election he himself pushed for

Netanyahu speaks at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2019.
Sebastian Scheiner,AP

After hiding for a number of days, as he usually does, behind the backs of unnamed “sources” in Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu realized Tuesday evening that if he doesn't immediately come out of the closet and put all his weight behind the initiative to call off the September election – it would perish.

The arrangement was as follows: First the publication of the initiative led by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (on Channel 12 News by reporter Dafna Liel), which was immediately followed by the release of pre-prepared statements by Likud, according to which Netanyahu is considering Edelstein’s initiative “seriously," and therefore will examine Edelstein’s proposal “in the next few days.” In other words: Netanyahu has been on it for over a week already.

>> Read more: Netanyahu to consider proposal to cancel upcoming Israeli election, party says ■ Netanyahu could crash and burn in the next elections – while his rivals are sleeping | Opinion

A few more minutes passed and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is on the verge of merging his Kulanu party into Likud, publicly expressed his support for the move. Meaning, he too was involved in the deal.

The word that has become so worn out — delusion — in all its grammatical forms, is much too anemic to describe what is unfolding before our eyes. The Israeli regime has never looked so elastic, flexible and open to the manipulation and crazy whims of one man. Once upon a time we would have called it Plasticine. Today the appropriate connotation is “slime,” the very same disgusting and slippery material that leaks out between your fingers, but never sticks to your skin, and that children love so much.

Israeli democracy is like slime in prime suspect Netanyahu’s hands, so tainted by crime. In December, he rushed to call early elections so the new Knesset would have enough time to legislate a long list of new laws to protect him from the law and rescue him from the looming indictment.

Netanyahu with Yuli Edelstein in Knesset, April 30, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Five months later, when he failed in his attempt to form a new government, Netanyahu chose not to abide by the law and allow President Reuven Rivlin to give another Knesset member the task of forming a governing coalition.

Once more, he dissolved the Knesset and Israel was again dragged to a new election set for September 17. But alas, recent polls predict an electoral catastrophe for Likud. The chances that a right-wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc without Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu would gather the 61 Knesset seats it needs were somewhere between slim to none. This means a personal and legal disaster for Netanyahu: The end of his political career and the beginning of his career as a defendant in the Jerusalem District Court.

These difficult times led to the need to annul the dissolution and resuscitate the 21st Knesset while attempting to pull off what fell through on the very last day of its short term — the establishment of a broad government coalition. Edelstein, who was considered to be the last fortress of statesmanlike conduct in Likud, agreed to his great shame to become a mercenary and executioner for the suspect and his family who to their great fear, can now imagine the movers growling at the gates of the prime minister’s residence.

According to the outline reported on Tuesday, Edelstein proposes to pass a new law, retroactive, one that would change the rules in the middle of the game and through which it would be possible to cancel the Knesset's dispersal. Then, according to Edelstein’s proposal, it will be possible to reach an agreement on a “broad government.” Netanyahu, of course, is examining it “seriously.”

With the noose around his neck tightening, the pre-indictment hearing drawing near, and his escape routes blocked, Netanyahu has discovered the charms of a unity government. This is what happened in the winter of 1998, when Netanyahu’s first government was on the verge of collapse. A minute before the decisive vote in the Knesset, he went up to the podium and proposed to then-opposition leader and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak to join his government. Barak refused, the Knesset dissolved itself, Netanyahu was defeated and Barak was elected prime minister.

Without the support of the main opposition party, Kahol Lavan, the shameful initiative that Edelstein volunteered to lead for some reason has no chance. On Tuesday evening, the party’s leaders made it clear that they were not involved. Any stuttering about it on their part would have put an end to the hope of Kahol Lavan of being an alternative leadership to Benjamin Netanyahu. They would have become Edelsteins, and as it turns out, we have more than enough of those.