Down to the Wire: Israel Facing Prospect of New Elections (Again)
The political saga surrounding Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form Israel’s next governing coalition is set to climax on Wednesday, as late as midnight. If the prime minister fails to strike an 11th hour deal between Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox factions on conscripting religious youth into the military, then parliament will almost certainly be disbanded and Israelis will again head to the ballot box, most probably on September 17. Netanyahu has had seven weeks since the April 9 national elections to bridge the gap between his prospective partners, but the two main antagonists have been unwilling to compromise. On Tuesday, Liberman reiterated his unwillingness to capitulate even in the face of what he described as “powerful” forces (according to one report, members of the ruling Likud have enlisted White House officials to apply pressure on the former defense minister). Meanwhile, Netanyahu reportedly is feeling the heat as the clock winds down, with close associates having reportedly told him that snap elections would prevent any attempt to pass legislation to shield him from potential prosecution in three separate corruption cases. Netanyahu is slated to attend a pre-indictment hearing with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on October 2, at which time he’ll be given a chance to present in detail his side of the story in hopes of avoiding trial. In anticipation of new elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party approved a merger with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party (four seats). The prime minister has also reached out to popular former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, whose New Right party failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April vote. For his part, President Reuven Rivlin has rejected growing calls – particularly from Benny Gantz’s Blue and White faction, which equaled the Likud’s 35 mandates – that another lawmaker be granted the opportunity to form a coalition before tonight’s deadline.