Israel’s parliament was dissolved on Wednesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractured ruling coalition failed to pass a budget, triggering the country’s fourth election in two years amid public anger over the management by Netanyahu from the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu and his former electoral rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, established a unity government in May following three inconclusive elections held since April 2019, but the coalition has been heading slowly for collapse for decades. weeks, undermined by mutual acrimony and mistrust.
As part of the three-year coalition deal, Netanyahu was supposed to serve as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz taking over in November 2021.
Gantz had called on the government to pass a budget covering 2020 and 2021, saying Israel and the coalition needed stability.
But Netanyahu refused to approve spending plans for 2021.
“The reason we are heading for an election is that Netanyahu has refused to pass a budget as required by law and to honor political agreements so that he can remain in power for the duration of his trial,” Yohanan Plesner, the head of the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) think tank, told AFP news agency.
The coalition had until midnight to adopt the 2020 budget. Failure to do so resulted in the dissolution of Parliament and the ballot is expected to take place on March 23.
“If an election is forced upon us, I promise you we will win,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech before the disbandment, accusing Gantz – whose support in opinion polls has plunged – for the early poll.
Gantz said he never trusted Netanyahu, but wanted to prevent the Israelis from a fourth election, especially as the pandemic accelerated.
“Netanyahu is taking us to elections for the sole purpose of not going to jail,” Gantz wrote on Twitter, alleging that Netanyahu hoped a new government would promote legislation overturning the lawsuits against him.
Netanyahu will remain prime minister until a new government is formed after the election. Now 71 years old, he first held this position from 1996 to 1999 and has held this position since 2009.
In his televised speech and the actual launch of his campaign, Netanyahu said he had arranged for the delivery of millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine to Israel. He also praised the diplomatic agreements negotiated by the United States with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
The line has an edge
Netanyahu has maintained a close relationship with President Donald Trump, who took a number of pro-Israel steps in previous elections. But with US President-elect Joe Biden taking office in January, Netanyahu will lose a big campaign trump card, said Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu could also be forced to campaign in February, when he has to appear in court several times a week to face charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust.
The veteran politician is accused of accepting inappropriate gifts and seeking to exchange favors with media moguls in return for positive coverage. He denied the wrongdoing.
“He is certainly very weak – much weaker than he has been politically for a long time – not only because he faces this impending corruption trial, but also because the Israelis widely believe he is wrong. managed the pandemic, “Dov Waxman, professor and Rosalinde and Arthur The Gilbert Foundation chair in Israeli studies at UCLA told Al Jazeera. “They are suffering economically because of it and Donald Trump will not be in the White House at that time, so some of the factors that allowed him to win in the past are not there.
Netanyahu also faces a new challenge from influential right-winger Gideon Saar, who left Likud and created his own New Hope party. Several polls suggest that the Saar could withdraw significant support from Netanyahu.
Gantz’s political fortunes have collapsed in the meantime.
His Blue and White party fractured when it struck the coalition deal with Netanyahu and recent polls suggest he would only win a handful of seats.
Overall, the outlook for left-center parties looks bleak, perhaps complicating any attempt by the Biden administration to renew Israeli engagement with the Palestinians.
“We are entering this election with a clear advantage in the polls for the political right,” said Plesner of the IDI, while highlighting “the growing possibility” that a right-wing camp is emerging which refuses to accept Netanyahu as prime minister. minister.