Electoral campaign posters of Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his opponent in the April 9 election, retired Israeli general Benny Gantz. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel to Hold Unprecedented 3rd Election in Less than Year

Israel has again been thrust into “campaign mode” ahead of an unprecedented third election in less than a year. The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, voted to dissolve itself late Wednesday night, the deadline for a last-ditch effort to nominate a candidate to form a government. It decided on March 2 for the election. Unable to find common ground following inconclusive election results in April and September, lawmakers from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White blame each other for the impasse. Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid predicted that the next few months would be “a festival of hate and violence and disgrace.” He added that “there are only three reasons for this election: bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” a reference to the pending indictments against Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases. According to two opinion polls, the public seems to agree, with more than 40 percent of respondents blaming the prime minister for the political deadlock and less than 10% blaming Gantz. (More than a quarter of the public believes Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is responsible, and a similar percentage says all parties are equally at fault). Another poll conducted this week showed that the prevailing sentiment could have tangible effects, with Blue and White predicted to win 37 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats in March – a gain of four over the September vote – versus 33 for the Likud, a gain of one. Perhaps most significant is that neither party is expected to be in a clear position to head a minimum 61-member coalition, as the country’s Right and Center-Left blocs are projected to receive about the same overall representation as they did in both April and September. Nevertheless, the situation could change dramatically as Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is in the process of drafting an in-depth opinion on whether Netanyahu’s legal troubles preclude him from potentially being tasked with forming a coalition following the March ballot. Legal precedent requires Israeli cabinet ministers to resign if indicted for a crime, while a prime minister must resign only once convicted of a crime and out of avenues of appeal, yet there is no law as to whether an indicted prime minister can form a new government. Meanwhile, the issue could become moot in the unlikely event that Netanyahu loses an upcoming Likud leadership primary to rival Gideon Sa’ar.

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