Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Israel Facing New Elections After PM Fails To Form Coalition

In a shocking turn of events, Netanyahu unable to secure a majority coalition in parliament; Likud-drafted motion to dissolve Knesset passes 74-45 in late-night vote

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday voted to dissolve a mere month after it was sworn in, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the midnight deadline to form a new government, triggering an unprecedented second national election this year.
After a raucous 12-hour debate, lawmakers voted 74 to 45 in favor of the Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the 21st Knesset and hold new elections on September 17.
The Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Union of Right-Wing Parties were joined by the two Arab-Israeli parties, Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al in supporting the motion. Only Kulanu MK Roy Folkman was absent from the late-night votes. He is expected to quit politics.

Netanyahu had appeared to secure a fourth consecutive term after elections on April 9, thanks to a strong showing by his Likud party and his other nationalist and religious allies.

But in a shocking turn of events for the longtime leader, Netanyahu failed to muster a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset by the Wednesday midnight deadline, due to an impasse between the secular and ultra-Orthodox members of his would-be coalition over a contentious draft law.

The standoff between the ultra-Orthodox parties and Avigdor Liberman, an ally-turned-rival who leads the secular Yisrael Beytenu party, sunk Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government in the allotted 42 days. Liberman insisted that the draft law pass unchanged; the ultra-Orthodox parties rejected this, and Netanyahu blamed Liberman for the unbreakable deadlock.

Infuriating but not finishing Netanyahu, Liberman drags Israel back to the polls

Furious as he spoke to reporters immediately after the Knesset had voted to disperse and call new elections on September 17, Netanyahu blamed “the personal ambition of one man” for dragging Israel back to the polls.

Liberman, his former PMO chief, foreign minister and defense minister, never truly wanted to sign a coalition deal and deliberately rejected every compromise, Netanyahu stormed. Liberman, he declared, reaching for the most hideous insult he could find, “is now part of the left.”

Minutes earlier, before the fateful Knesset vote, Liberman had offered a very different narrative. He had wanted to join the coalition, he claimed. He had recommended to the president last month that Netanyahu be charged with forming the government. He had fully intended for his five-strong Yisrael Beytenu to be part of a Netanyahu-led 65-strong coalition in the 120-member Knesset.
All he had demanded was that legislation designed to raise the proportion of young ultra-Orthodox males serving in the army, a bill endorsed by the IDF itself and passed on a first reading 10 months ago, be fully and finally approved with no further changes.
But Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties had chosen not to meet this entirely reasonable demand, he lamented. Instead, the coalition negotiations had been a saga of “complete surrender by the Likud to the ultra-Orthodox.” And while Yisrael Beytenu was a “natural partner” in a right-wing government, he said, “we won’t be partners in a government run according to halacha” — Jewish religious law.
Netanyahu’s version of events was slightly lacking. Israel did not necessarily have to be gearing up for new elections five months after the last round. Netanyahu could have simply reported to President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday that he’d been unable to form a majority coalition, and Rivlin could then have cast around for somebody else to have a try. But King Bibi had absolutely no intention of taking that risk; much better new elections, with a new bogeyman in the shape of Liberman to help him get out the vote, than giving Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar or any other pretender a clear run at the throne.
But if Netanyahu didn’t quite tell the full story, Liberman’s narrative was transparently false. The ultra-Orthodox draft legislation, whose every comma he so stirringly championed, would barely change the dismal reality in which the overwhelming majority of young Haredi males are exempted from the army. This is not a landmark law for which it was worth bringing down parliament one month after a fresh crop of legislators were sworn in.
Rather, Liberman realized that he held the balance of power. He may have calculated that he can win more seats next time as the great crusader of the secular right (and may well be mistaken). But he was primarily motivated by the desire to hurt Netanyahu. A great deal of nastiness may have played out behind-the-scenes between these two veteran political heavyweights, but even Liberman’s public utterances leave no room for doubt about his contempt for a prime minister he has repeatedly informed us he considers to be duplicitous, indecisive and soft.
Over recent years, he has leveled most every printable insult under the sun at Netanyahu, including but not limited to liar, crook and cheat. It was his resignation as defense minister last November, when he accused the government of capitulating to Hamas terrorism, that led to April’s elections. In retrospect, it is a wonder that Netanyahu didn’t prioritize locking Liberman into his coalition as the first goal of these failed negotiations, given the Yisrael Beytenu chief’s animus and proven potential for wreaking political havoc.

As the 21st Knesset voted itself into oblivion at midnight — the law to disperse itself was its sole legislative achievement — a Channel 12 TV anchor remarked, with a degree of sorrow, that “what we are watching is parliament committing mass [political] suicide.” Netanyahu’s hold on his Likud MKs is so firm that they all dutifully voted themselves out of a job, at least temporarily, evidently confident that he will lead them safely back here in three and a half months time.
But what of Liberman and Netanyahu? What now becomes of them?
Pursuing his vendetta against Netanyahu to this bitter dead end, Liberman may turn out to have fatally damaged his own political career. Not only will the formidable Netanyahu be singularly focused on eviscerating him at the polls, but so too will the ultra-Orthodox parties he so publicly humiliated. And while many Israelis may not bother to schlep to the polling stations again, especially if September 17 turns out sunny,  the ultra-Orthodox community always votes in high numbers, and its representation in the next Knesset is likely to grow. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu didn’t fare all that well on April 9, winning just those five seats — a far cry from its high of fifteen in 2009. It might have trouble making it back into the Knesset at all next time.

For his part, Netanyahu vowed after the Knesset dissolution vote to run “a sharp and clear campaign” in September, “and to win.” It would be foolish, as ever this past decade, to bet against him — particularly given the loyalty his party’s MKs have shown him in the last few frenzied days.
But Liberman will be hoping, nonetheless, that his fatal preemptive strike on this Netanyahu coalition will immensely complicate the prime minister’s legal situation from here on. He will be anticipating that with Netanyahu’s pre-trial hearing set for early October, just two weeks after what are now to be our next elections, the prime minister — provided, of course, that Netanyahu is more victorious in the next election than he turned out to be in the last one — simply won’t have time to legislate himself a Get Out of Jail card. If that proves to be the case, Liberman might truly turn out to have been Netanyahu’s most effective adversary.

It is certain, however, that Netanyahu will seek to have that hearing delayed — arguing, quite reasonably, that he has to fight an unexpected extra election. And it’s entirely possible that the attorney general will grant his request for a postponement, which might yet give Netanyahu the time he needs to try to extricate himself from his legal woes, at whatever cost to those democratic checks and balances.
The attorney general, after all, is not pursuing a vendetta against Netanyahu. Unlike Avigdor Liberman.

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