February 21, 2020

Netanyahu's Fight for Survival

“On May 29, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forced the just-elected Israeli Knesset to dissolve itself and set a date, Sept. 17, for new elections. Netanyahu has spent his days and night since trying to think of a way to reverse that fateful decision after realizing that another round of balloting, only five months after his April 2019 election victory, could be a disaster.

Disbanding parliament just days after lawmakers had been sworn in was a Hobson’s choice. Netanyahu’s legally mandated deadline for forming a new government expired at midnight on May 29, and he was out of options. Technically, he should have handed the mandate back to President Reuven Rivlin, who might then have asked another Knesset member to try his or her hand at forming a government. By law, Rivlin could have tasked the job to another Likud lawmaker or even tapped Netanyahu’s rival, Blue and White Chair Benny Gantz. Either way, it would have spelled the immediate end of the Netanyahu era.

It would not have simply been the end of Netanyahu’s political career, but probably a personal catastrophe as well. Netanyahu has sworn to fight pending criminal indictments against him from the prime minister’s seat; his path to prison for corruption could be far shorter as a former prime minister. Netanyahu does not want to end up like his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who was jailed for corruption in 2016. He therefore had to, at all cost, foil the formation of the next government by anyone who was not Benjamin Netanyahu. Thus the newly installed Knesset had to commit suicide. The following day, Netanyahu realized that he had dug himself into a hole: On Sept. 17, he will have to muster enough votes to ensure a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset without the support of former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, a seemingly impossible task.”

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