Israel barrels towards fourth election within two years
Israel appears to be on track to tumble into its fourth election cycle within two years after efforts to keep a fractious coalition government intact looked likely to fail ahead of a midnight deadline.
Unless the government, beset by infighting and distrust, can pass a budget by the end of Tuesday (10pm GMT), the parliament will automatically dissolve, triggering a snap election in March 2021.
In the wake of a breakdown in negotiations, the possibility of a deal seemed highly unlikely after a last-ditch attempt on Monday to pass legislation in the Knesset to delay the deadline failed to pass.
Benny Gantz, the former head of the opposition who begrudgingly joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in May, has been unable to get the prime minister to agree to a budget.
Under their power-sharing deal, Netanyahu serves as prime minister for the first 18 months, after which Gantz would take the leadership role for the remainder of the three-year term.
Political analysts in Israel have speculated that Netanyahu might want to torpedo the government prematurely rather than hand over power, especially as the 71-year-old is engaged in a lengthy corruption trial that he would rather fight as prime minister.
However, Netanyahu, who denies the criminal charges, has said he does not want to go to the polls again.
“We do not want elections and we voted against them this evening, but we are not afraid of elections – because we will win!” he wrote on Twitter after Monday’s bill failed to pass.
A general election, likely to take place on 23 March, could lead to a significant shift in the makeup of Israel’s political parties, one that may hurt Netanyahu’s chances.
A key figure from his Likud party, Gideon Saar, broke from the faction earlier this month. The former Netanyahu protege turned rival, made an attempt last year to oust Israel’s longest leader in a primary.
After that move failed, he created a new party, New Hope, which is expected to boost its ranks with Likud defectors.
Gantz, too, faces potential demise after just two years in politics, with several of his Blue and White lawmakers voting against him on Monday night.
Writing in the local Israel Hayom newspaper, Matti Tuchfeld said Gantz, “with a high degree of probability”, had lost control of his party, which is made up of politicians mostly united in their opposition to Netanyahu.
“After an official declaration about elections is made, the assessment is that its disintegration is inevitable … Like every balloon party, Blue and White’s fate was to pop.”