Israel heading for third election in 12 months

What happened: Israel’s political leaders have almost given up trying to form a grand coalition and are instead blaming each other for the likely dissolution of the Knesset on 12 December and a fresh election in February or March 2020.

  • Yisrael Beteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, the potential kingmaker for the last two and half months, said: “Netanyahu and Gantz were playing a blame game. I tried to apply real pressure to them, but unfortunately both of them have made a strategic decision not to go to unity, so both parties bear responsibility for another election.”
  • Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I don’t want to serve half a year, I want to serve two years, but the possibility of serving half a year arose because of the president’s proposal, and that is the maximum flexibility, since there should be contiguity. I will now make a supreme effort, despite Blue and White’s opposition, to avert these unnecessary elections
  • Benny Gantz said: “Netanyahu should not seek out others to blame.. He needs to look me and the citizens of Israel in the eyes and tell us what he thinks and what he wants, instead of deflecting responsibility.  No prime minister has ever placed himself and his needs before those of the State of Israel like Netanyahu is currently doing.”

Context: After the 17 September election a grand coalition between the Likud, Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu looked the only viable option to form a Government, but there were large gaps between the parties. Benjamin Netanyahu said he had to serve first in any premiership rotation agreement and Likud demanded that all of its right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies join the government.

  • Blue and White rejected the idea of Netanyahu remaining Prime Minister, even for six months, because he has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Blue and White proposed that party leader Benny Gantz should serve as Prime Minister for the first two years, with Netanyahu rotating in for the last two years, contingent on his criminal cases being resolved.
  • State prosecutors yesterday indicted Netanyahu’s former attorney, a political aid and senior security officials in Case 3000 that concerns the purchase of submarines and naval vessels from the German shipbuilder ‎Thyssenkrupp in 2016.
  • Netanyahu was never a suspect in the case but former defence minister and now Blue and White MK Moshe Yaalon described Case 3000 as: “The worst corruption affair in security matters since the state’s establishment. A government headed by Blue and White will form a commission of inquiry that will reveal the truth of matters in general that were not fully examined, and specifically with regard to Netanyahu, such as the approval for Germany to sell advanced submarines to Egypt and his concealing this from the defence minister and the chief of staff.”

Looking ahead: Political leaders have until midnight on Wednesday to reach a deal, it is still possible, but highly unlikely. The possible area of compromise centres on President Rivlin’s idea of a rotating premiership with Prime Minister Netanyahu given a special status while incapacitated and dealing with his legal challenges. But the Likud would need to drop their demand that their right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies join the Government – something they have failed to do since 17 September. If there is no agreement, the Knesset will dissolve on Thursday 12 December and a new election date announced. The Central Election Committee said they would be ready to hold elections from 25 February, but 3 March and 17 March have been suggested as possible dates.

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