(Jerusalem, Israel) — To most Israelis, the very notion of a fourth round of national elections, one that could even happen before the end of 2020, seems insane.
- The country is battling a serious second wave of the coronavirus.
- The death toll from COVID-19 is rising daily.
- The borders are still closed to foreigners.
- The tourism sector is suffering terribly.
- One-out-of-five Israelis are out of work — up from just 4% unemployment in January.
- And there is no clear plan to crush the coronavirus and fully reopen the economy, despite the fact that a “corona czar” was appointed in late July to coordinate all policy.
Yet the Israeli media are filled with speculation that new elections may be coming soon.
The key date to watch is August 25th. By law, if the government has not passed a budget by then, new elections will be automatically triggered.
The national unity government’s coalition agreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister/Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz states that lawmakers will pass a two-year budget. Netanyahu is now pushing for just a one-year budget instead. Gantz is resisting. A growing number of political observers say Netanyahu is trying to force a crisis to go back to elections to prevent Gantz from becoming the nation’s next premier.
Because new polls show that Netanyahu could put together a right-wing government next time without needing the help of Gantz and his party. While Netanyahu’s own approval rating has plunged precipitously, and Likud’s numbers are dropping too, still there has been an overall resurgence of other right-wing parties. That could potentially give Netanyahu and the right-wing full control of the government after a new set of elections, allowing them to checkmate their centrist rival, Gantz.
Still, those same polls show serious risks to Netanyahu.
- Only 25% of Israeli Jews support going to a fourth round of elections in 2020, according to a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute — indeed, only 27% of voters in Netanyahu’s own party, Likud, support new elections.
- 68% of Israelis would blame Netanyahu if the country is forced to go to a fourth round of elections — only 32% would blame Gantz, according to a new poll published this week by The Jerusalem Post.
- 71% of Israelis say Netanyahu is doing a poor job handling the coronavirus crisis, while only 20% say he is doing a good job, found a poll conducted for Channel 11.
- What’s more, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties – key Netanyahu allies — strongly object to new elections. Haaretz reports that Shas and United Torah Judaism leaders are saying that fourth elections would be “utter insanity.” A joint statement from the two parties vowed, “We will not cooperate with any initiative to advance the election and will do everything possible to prevent elections.”
Meanwhile, Gantz has at least one interesting card up his sleeve to counter Netanyahu. He and his allies are actively discussing passing legislation that would prevent a Prime Minister who is under indictment from running for office. Such legislation would have to be passed before August 25. While not be easy, it may be possible.
Gantz’s “Blue & White” party issued a statement this week, according to Ynet News, declaring that “the citizens of Israel will not forgive he who drags the state to elections in a medical and economic emergency period…we must pass an annual budget as all Israeli economists recommend.”
How will it all play out? It’s impossible to say yet. Just keep your eyes on August 25th.
[Photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/pool/Agence France Presse.]
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