Will Netanyahu’s government go the distance?
The government remaining intact and the country holding its first election on time since 1988 remain a possibility
Across America, some 114 million people voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections for governors, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Millions cast ballots in advance, using the absentee ballot system that is strongly encouraged in the United States.
Israelis who are not emissaries of the state can only dream of absentee balloting. If the next election happens to be called for a date when they are abroad, they will not be able to influence the makeup of the next Knesset.
They not only lack the benefit of knowing, years in advance, when the election will be, they might not be given more than a three months’ heads up.
Likud ministers joked this week that while they may pretend to know everything, they do not know three things: When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will call an election, when US President Donald Trump will unveil his long-awaited peace plan, and when the Messiah will come.
They added that it is possible that Trump and the Messiah have already decided their timetable but Netanyahu has not.
MANY PRESUMED DATES for the election have come and gone, and many false prophets have failed with their prognostications, starting with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who infamously predicted after the last election that the current government would fall apart within a year.
The Jerusalem Post repeatedly printed Tuesday, February 26, as a possible election date. It made the most sense, due to the unlikelihood of initiating an election before next Tuesday’s municipal races and the difficulty in passing a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill by the December 2 Supreme Court-imposed deadline.
But the committee legislating the bill started meeting Thursday morning, and many meetings have been held behind the scenes, making it increasingly likely that the bill will be passed, and an early election will be averted again.
While it could have been a trick to mislead the media, Netanyahu’s associates said he wanted to distance the general election from the municipal races in which his endorsements made too many enemies.
Those predicting an election in March have started questioning whether that will still happen, after Netanyahu started calling for the passage of more and more bills in the current Knesset.
Suddenly, he decided he must first pass the so-called Gideon Sa’ar bill, which would prevent the president from asking an MK who is not No. 1 on his list to form a government. Such a possibility could come in play a year after the election, if Netanyahu is indicted following a hearing and party leaders in his coalition try to force him to quit.
As a Basic Law, passing the bill is complex and could take time.
This week, Netanyahu agreed to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s demand to also pass a death penalty bill, even though Israel already has a death penalty.
Liberman wants to be able to tell his voters that he accomplished something. Getting the death penalty’s requirement lowered from a special majority to a simple majority among judges is easier than keeping his promise to kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh or winning a war. The bill will be advanced Wednesday in the Knesset Law Committee.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is seeking his own accomplishments, such as an overarching Supreme Court override bill, or at least one pertaining specifically to migrant workers. He would also like to pass a bill permitting the expulsion of terrorist families from one West Bank city to another.
Degel Hatorah would want to follow up on its success in the municipal elections by lowering the electoral threshold so it could run independently of its United Torah Judaism partner turned rival, Agudat Yisrael.
And does anyone remember that, following mass demonstrations, Netanyahu promised to pass the Basic Law: The Druze, in response to that well-liked minority being left out of the Jewish Nation-State Law?
The beginning of April, before Passover, of course, could be election time. But the second half of May – after festive Independence Day ceremonies that
make Netanyahu look good – is now looking increasingly likely.
At this point, the only party leader who definitely wants an immediate election is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who believes he has accomplished enough in the post for his Kulanu Party to be tested, and fears expensive, populist legislation that politicians will try to pass in order to beef up their resumes ahead of primaries.
Some thought Netanyahu would initiate an election as soon as possible following reports that the State Prosecution had expedited its investigations of the prime minister. But Netanyahu has given no indication that he is racing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to hold an election before the bribery indictment he is expected to issue at the beginning of 2019.
ISRAEL HAVING its first election on time since 1988 remains a possibility.
Likud officials said this week that an obscure party bylaw requiring primaries to be held six months in advance of an on-time general election held could be canceled in order to prevent rebellions and revenge by the many Likud MKs who will not win realistic slots on the list.
After a week of MKs issuing inappropriate insults, there are already enough embarrassments emerging from the current Knesset, if anyone needs an excuse to initiate an election. But Netanyahu has repeatedly said he does not need an excuse anymore.
The prime minister will call the election whenever he pleases. And no one, not even the Messiah, will be able to stop him. •
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu convenes his cabinet in Jerusalem. The election date is up to him.