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July 8, 2019 11:05 am

Despite the Likud’s Best Efforts, Israel Still Headed to the Polls in September

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Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party head Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90. – Israel remains headed to the polls in September, despite a serious attempt by the Likud Party to cancel the elections it itself called. The attempt, led by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, raises questions about the Likud’s confidence going into Israel’s second general elections in six months.

This past week, Edelstein, a member of Likud, tweeted: “I found a parliamentary framework and there is an option to cancel the most unnecessary elections in Israel’s history. It is our obligation to allow the 21st Knesset to continue working.”

As Netanyahu had failed to form a governing majority within his natural right-wing political bloc, the only way to avoid a second election would have been to form a unity government between Likud and the Blue and White Party led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

The two parties together could have combined for a coalition of 70 mandates, nine more than the required minimum of 61. No smaller parties to the right or left would have been required to form a government.

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Former Likud MK Yehuda Glick told JNS that this was part of “genuine efforts to establish a national unity government.”

However, Gantz and Lapid had already committed publicly not to join a Netanyahu-led government, and Netanyahu had already used up the 42 days he had by law to form a government.

So rather than allow Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to pass the mandate to form a government to another MK, Netanyahu instead called to dismantle the newly elected Knesset and head to a second election.

Yet early polling data showed that Netanyahu’s Likud and natural right-wing partners could actually lose seats in September, possibly dropping to 58 seats or less, well below the 61-seat majority needed to form a government.

This likely prompted the attempt to cancel the September elections and undo the dispersal of the Knesset.

MK Oded Forer, faction head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party led by Avigdor Lieberman, told JNS that “the idea of cancelling the elections simply came about because the Likud was reading the polls and seeing a massive drop in support ahead of the September election,” adding that the maneuver represented a “panic move.”

Lieberman himself had recommended Netanyahu for prime minister following the elections, giving Netanyahu a total of 65 MKs’ recommendations—more than enough to form a right-wing government. Yet Lieberman ultimately refused to join a Netanyahu-led right-wing government, claiming that the key issue was an inability to pass a law that would mandate additional numbers of religious conscripts into the military.

Forer defended Lieberman’s decision not to join a Netanyahu-led government, and offered harsh criticism of the 10-year sitting prime minister.

“More and more Israelis are beginning to understand that the vision the Likud brings to the table is harmful for Israel’s future, especially on religion and state issues and its weak position regarding Hamas,” Forer said, adding that he expected many Likud voters to switch over to Yisrael Beiteinu.

Yet many now suggest that what doomed Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government was legislation the Likud tried to push forward during the few weeks in which the 21st Knesset existed.

Prior to the April elections, Netanyahu strongly denied that he would move forward with a new law that would give him automatic immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he is facing. That promise satisfied the many Likud voters who support Netanyahu but also believe in the rule of law and were uncomfortable with the prospect of the immunity law. Yet many reported that Netanyahu was conditioning coalition agreements on the inclusion of the controversial legislation.

Senior Likud member and likely candidate to lead a post-Netanyahu Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar told Channel 12 news that “this legislation offers zero benefit and causes maximum damage.”

The effort to prevent new elections may also have stemmed from polls indicating that nearly 70 percent of Israelis favored cancelling the election in order to create a national unity government. Israelis also were concerned that Arab parties, which fared poorly in April because they ran on separate lists, might gain seats due to their intent to unify into a single joint Arab list for September.

Additional seats to the Arab contingent would likely affect the redistribution of seats among both the right-wing and left-wing blocs come September.

MK Forer told JNS that there was one additional factor: the spike in the polls which his party has seen since new elections were called.

“More and more Israelis are beginning to understand that the vision the Likud brings to the table is harmful for Israel’s future, especially on religion and state issues and its weak position regarding Hamas,” Forer said, explaining that these voters have switched to Yisrael Beiteinu.

Edelstein, who tried to help Netanyahu avoid the repeat election, conceded last Wednesday that his efforts had failed.

“In recent days I tried to push, for your benefit, the citizens of Israel, the cancellation of these unnecessary elections, saving all of us billions,” Edelstein wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately, not everyone would cooperate, so we’re not going to be able to cancel the elections.”

Now the Likud has until mid-September to regain the trust of all its April supporters.

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