Analysis

If Netanyahu Calls an Early Election, It Could Only Mean One Thing

If Israel finds itself in an election campaign that purportedly no one wanted, then Netanyahu probably has a political deal brewing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem February 25, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an ironclad rule. He will never resort to Knesset elections before coming to an agreement on a future coalition for himself, or at least the strong foundation for one.

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Prior to the 2009 election, he forged an agreement in advance with the ultra-Orthodox parties and possibly also with the former leader of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak. Prior to the 2013 election, he merged his Likud election ticket with Yisrael Beiteinu’s and the election result was decided. He didn’t break up his government prior to the current one, in which Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah were in the cabinet, before assuring the ultra-Orthodox parties that Lapid’s policies would be a thing of the past. They in turn pledged their support for him as prime minister in the next government.

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The conclusion to be drawn is that ten days from now, at most, if we find ourselves in an election campaign that purportedly no one wanted, it should be clear that it didn’t fall on us like some drone from the sky. Past experience shows that Netanyahu will have already engineered his next coalition – first and foremost with the current defense and finance ministers, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, who are also potential partners in rival coalitions. Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett has no option other than Netanyahu’s Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties are in Netanyahu’s camp in any event.

Netanyahu also has something to offer the ultra-Orthodox – that he won’t opt for a national unity government with Lapid and Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay. And we shouldn’t fall off our chairs if the first provision in any future coalition agreement provides for a military conscription law that in practice ensures legalized mass-draft evasion on the part of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

There’s no point in wasting words trying to dissect the motives, open or hidden, of each party head in this complex situation because over the past several days all of them have acted as if they had had too much to drink over Purim, and maybe not just to drink.

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Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an ultra-Orthodox costume in a video posted on his Facebook page.

The coalition crisis precipitated over the demand by United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman to have a conscription law passed as a precondition for support for the 2019 state budget is indeed a political complication of the first order, a Gordian knot that can only be undone with the thrust of a sword. And the only person with a sword in his hand is the prime minister. Bennett told the members of his Knesset faction that Netanyahu could resolve the crisis “in ten minutes,” and if he hasn’t done so, he apparently has a reason not to.

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Several months ago, the person closest to Netanyahu predicted that at the end of the day, the prime minister would steer his course and that of the country only based on what serves his own personal interest. He would camouflage it to the best of his ability, but that is the only thing that will guide him and his actions.

And when one looks at the scene created by three police investigations, the timetable of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and the upcoming holidays and national events in April and May, it’s hard to escape the advantage that would be handed the prime minister from elections in late June, before Mendelblit decides whether to put Netanyahu on trial in two of the cases, dubbed by the police as Case 1000 and Case 2000. The good news is that the current coalition crisis will not drag on for weeks. In the middle of next week, we’ll know where we’re headed.