With just over two weeks left on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s clock and no feasible government in sight, the wily politician on Monday pulled yet another trick out of his bottomless bag, proposing a new bill to parliament and throwing Israel’s already weary political system into its latest spin.
There is a solution to the political logjam. We’ll hold snap personal elections for the office of prime minister only, without dispersing parliament
“There is a solution to the political logjam,” Netanyahu said during his Likud party’s meeting in Israel’s parliament. “We’ll hold snap personal elections for the office of prime minister only, without dispersing parliament.”
The draft, already presented to parliament on Monday by Netanyahu’s allies, calls for a round of personal elections to be held in 30 days’ time, which will determine the identity of Israel’s leader, similar to Israel’s election rounds of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Netanyahu can’t establish a government, so he’s trying to change the rules midgame. This just means extending the paralysis for several more months
Yet the prime minister’s attempt to reconfigure the country’s electoral system barely a month after Israel’s fourth election in two years, and after apparently failing again to form a government, drew criticism from many in parliament.
“These aren’t personal elections, these are fifth elections,” said Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in a press conference Monday. “Netanyahu can’t establish a government, so he’s trying to change the rules midgame. This just means extending the paralysis for several more months.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Monday suffered a stinging defeat in the new parliament’s first vote.
While the prime minister’s proposal for allocating seats in the temporary committee that will govern parliament until a government is sworn in was rejected, Lapid’s counterproposal was approved, possibly signaling the opposition’s strong hand in the coming weeks’ legislative battles.
The longest-tenured premier in Israeli history, Netanyahu was tapped by President Reuven Rivlin to establish a coalition two weeks ago, after receiving the most seats in the March 23 election.
The president awarded Netanyahu one month to present his government, a task that has become more improbable with each passing day.
Failing to net the required 61-seat majority in last month’s election, the prime minister has tried – so far unsuccessfully – to piece together a patchwork coalition comprising ultra-Orthodox and extreme right-wing parties and the Islamist United Arab List, which has surprisingly not ruled out supporting the prime minister.
On Monday, the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, also delivered remarks in parliament, saying he would consider the Likud’s proposal to change Israel’s electoral system and reiterating his intentions to “do what’s best for the Arab population in Israel.”
Abbas said he would join “any government that will allocate the needed funds and resources to the country’s hurting minority community,” whose crime and unemployment rates have skyrocketed in recent years.
Moments later, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the right-wing Religious Zionism party, rejected yet again the latest calls by right-wing lawmakers to form a government with the United Arab List, whom he called “terrorist sympathizers.”
“I’ll do everything in my powers to prevent this dangerous being from coming to life, and I’m sure Netanyahu will too,” Smotrich said in his speech in parliament, taking a sly dig at the prime minister who throughout his campaign promised not to include Arab parties in his future government.
The right-wing politician’s insistent refusal to join Abbas in a Netanyahu-led coalition effectively blocks the prime minister’s path to swearing in a government in two weeks.
If Netanyahu fails, President Rivlin can either hand another lawmaker, presumably Lapid, a month to try and present a government, or pass the decision on to parliament itself, essentially ensuring a fifth election cycle in two and half years.
The push by Netanyahu’s Likud to hold snap personal elections is aimed at blocking any other lawmaker from receiving the nomination from the president.
Perhaps the most important player in the complex riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is Israeli politics, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, remained silent on Monday.
Playing both sides of the aisle, Bennett, a right-wing politician and former Netanyahu confidant, has negotiated with the prime minister over the past week and promised to join his coalition, but has also signaled his willingness to head a unity government along with Lapid and other right-wing and center-left parties.
“[Bennett] has to stop hurtling toward a leftist government with Lapid,” Netanyahu said on Monday. “The idea of him becoming prime minister, with only seven seats in parliament, is absurd,” he added, at the end of a long – and apparently unproductive – meeting between the two.
Bennett’s party abstained in Monday evening’s vote, enabling Lapid to gain control of parliament’s temporary committee and infuriating Likud lawmakers.
What do you know, we haven’t had elections in a while. Only more spins while parliament is paralyzed for the longest period in its history
“The news cycle since this morning has been dominated by spins on top of spins,” Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli said in a statement sent to The Media Line. “What do you know, we haven’t had elections in a while. Only more spins while parliament is paralyzed for the longest period in its history.”