What does the future hold for Netanyahu?

What does the future hold for Netanyahu?

On Wednesday 29 May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu passed his deadline to form a coalition and sent the country to an unprecedented second election in the same year. This article will outline the problems faced by Netanyahu and assess his chances of surviving as Prime Minister in the next elections.

After April’s elections, it seemed Netanyahu would hold power after President Rivlin tasked him with forming a coalition under the recommendations of a majority in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. However, due to a failure to reconcile the demands of key coalition members, he reached the deadline unable to form a government. Instead of allowing Rivlin to task another Knesset Member to form a coalition, he successfully passed a bill with 74 votes to 45 to dissolve the Knesset and set new elections for September 17.

Soon to be Israel’s longest ever serving PM, Netanyahu also faces corruption charges of which he is set to defend in October. Therefore, the pressure is undoubtedly on the PM, known by many as Bibi. This next political challenge could perhaps be one of his most significant, but will it be too large for him to overcome?

Failure to form a coalition

The critical rupture in the coalition talks were the conflicting demands of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and the ultra-Orthodox parties. They disagree on a new law setting a quota on ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the military – something they were previously exempt from doing. Yisrael Beiteinu insisted the bill be kept, the ultra-Orthodox adamantly disagreed, and Netanyahu was stuck in the middle unable to find a compromise.

Whether Bibi can resolve these differences and make the same coalition work next time around now seems unlikely. Netanyahu cut ties with Avigdor Liebermann, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, by blaming him for the costly new elections and branding him “part of the left” trying to bring “down right-wing governments”. Liebermann, who expects to win 13 additional seats has now changed from a potential partner to a direct challenger for the leadership.

Corruption charges

In February, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, announced plans to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. October is the date of the hearing. Although with the new elections so close to the trial, he may ask for a deferral giving him time to prepare his defence.

Some argue calling new elections is just another way to delay prosecution – additional to his attempts to pass legislation which would make him immune to prosecution for as long as he remains in office. On May 25th, thousands gathered to protest Netanyahu’s proposed legislation. Key opposition parties, Blue and White, Meretz and Labour, were at the protest as well as the Arab-majority faction Hadash-Ta’al.

However, those chanting ‘Bibi Go Home’ were not the ones who voted for him in the April’s elections. Despite many knowing of his indictment, they rationalised voting for him based on his strong man attitude and ability to fend off enemies of the left and the Arabs, while maintaining good relations with key international players. Although this image is weakening with his failure to form a coalition, it seems likely that those voters will remain loyal, thereby delivering Likud a similar share of the vote.

What do the polls suggest?

Polls published on May 30th suggest little will change about voters preferences. They show that Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu will continue to hold the balance of power. Some suggest that voter turnout could be lower due to elections being held during the holiday period or because some will have become disenfranchised with the political process. Although this could be true, it is unlikely to muster a significant change in vote share.

Whether Bibi can hold his position is somewhat difficult to predict with four months being a long time in politics. However, it seems at least that unless Netanyahu can pull off something quite spectacular, his position will be much the same, just marginally weaker with an indictment hearing much closer.

Categories: Insights, Politics

About Author

John Leaver

John Leaver currently interns at Horizon Intelligence and the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel. He also writes for the Next Century Foundation and is undertaking a part time MSc in Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex. He holds a Bachelors degree in Politics and German from the University of Nottingham. His main focus of interest is Middle Eastern affairs.