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

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By GIL HOFF­MAN

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. •

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu con­venes his cabi­net in Jerusalem. The elec­tion date is up to him.

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