- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, forcing Israel into snap elections slated for September. This has never happened before.
- Negotiations collapsed after an argument over whether Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community should be forced to serve in the military like the rest of the Israeli population.
- Netanyahu is also facing indictment over three separate criminal cases concerning bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
- Some Israeli politicians are trying to write new laws to essentially grant Netanyahu immunity.
- Experts say Netanyahu’s indictment and attempts to manipulate the legal system will likely play a major role in the coming election, and could sour his chances of reelection.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government by this week’s deadline, forcing Israel into snap elections slated for September.
Israel’s parliament voted to dissolve itself in the early hours on Thursday, just over a month after the last time Israel went to the polls and handed Netanyahu his apparent fifth victory.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party scored 35 seats of the 120 seats – the same number as opponent Benny Gantz and his new, center-left Kahol Lavan party.
Netanyahu was named victorious by President Reuven Rivlin, as he appeared to have a clear path towards forming a coalition government with several right-wing and religious parties that won an impressive number of seats.
He was given 42 days to negotiate with the aim of securing a majority coalition of at least 61 parliamentary seats.
But shortly after midnight on Thursday, Likud that it had fallen short by one seat.
The shortfall led the Knesset to vote to dissolve. New elections are tentatively scheduled for September 17.
Netanyahu faced a major impasse with an uneasy ally, Avidgdor Lieberman, who leads the secular ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu.
The dispute was over a proposal to expand mandatory military service to members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.
Since its founding, Israel has set up a mandatory military draft for all citizens over 18, though exemptions exist for Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, and some members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, which makes up some 11% of the population.
The issue has become a major source of tension, fuelling resentment from many nationalist and secular Israelis who view military service as a right of passage in the Jewish state.
At the forefront of the battle over conscription is soviet-born Lierberman, who previously served as Israel’s Defence Minister and who acts as a voice for the over one million Russian-speaking immigrants that make up much of his electoral base.
Lieberman previously put forward a draft bill to gradually push ultra-Orthodox men into service by setting yearly targets for the number of draftees and imposing fines on religious institutions that don’t comply.
Lieberman initially said on Facebook that his party would only endorse Netanyahu as Prime Minister, but in the same breath said he would “not move one millimetre” on plans to pass his conscription proposal in full.
This became a sticking point for members of Netanyahu’s nascent coalition, some of whom represent the ultra-Orthodox communities who would be newly required to serve.
Attempts to level with Lieberman and his party’s crucial five parliamentary seats were unsuccessful, due to staunch opposition from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies.
What happens next?
A political deadlock like this has never happened in Israel before.
Fresh elections mean parties must again choose their leaders and prepare their campaigns in what will likely be an exhausting election season.
Kahol Lavan, the center-left party was only established earlier this year, but saw impressive gains in the last election.
During the elections, many Israelis saw Gantz, the party leader, as a welcome change to Netanyahu’s political dominance, which has seen him lead Israel for a total of 13 years.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
Observers said Netanyahu was hoping a win could help his legal predicament. Allies last week moved towards drafting a bill that would essentially protect him from standing trial and restrict the power of Israel’s Supreme Court.
Tens of thousands of Israelis across the political spectrum this week gathered in protest against the move, which they said would undermine the nation’s democracy.
No sitting Israeli Prime Minister has ever been indicted. Such a move doesn’t automatically require Netanyahu to resign, but pressure to do so would be strong.
A resignation in such circumstances would be the “the accepted norm,” former Police Affairs Reporter at The Jerusalem Post Ben Hartman told Business Insider.
Netanyahu’s stunning defeat may mark the end of his reign
Experts say Netanyahu’s luck may soon run out as he inches closer to an indictment.
Yochanan Plesner, a former member of Knesset, and President of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, told reporters on Thursday that, Netanyahu’s legal standing is likely to be a key issue for voters.
“Netanyahu exposed his legal plan,” Plesner said on Thursday.
“The question of Netanyahu’s legal woes, his intention to upset the entire legal system in order to enable him to dodge the system of justice, that for sure play[s] a role in the election campaign.”
Resentment appears to be growing among Israelis over Netanyahu’s attempt to manipulate Israel’s legal system in their favour, Plesner said.
This, he predicted, could drive loyalist voters from the right-wing bloc to the center-left parties.
Despite overwhelming strikes against Netanyahu, Plesner says he may still yet be able to rise from the ashes, and predicts a close run between the two main parties.
“Who do the voters trust to manage the affairs of the state? It’s likely that we will again see a neck-in-neck between two options.”
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