Israeli politics have descended into something akin to a circus sideshow in recent days.
We all knew that the run-up to a second early election this year would be particularly nasty, but the current maneuvering has become absurd.
The 21st Knesset was dissolved just weeks after being voted in because Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t cobble together a disparate majority coalition, as he had done so many times before. Naturally, he blamed everyone but himself for this failure.
So a fresh campaign ahead of a September 17 vote was kicked off. But the tone has been somewhat different than that leading to the April 9 election. Despite accusing nearly everyone else, including natural allies to the right of the political spectrum, of having abandoned all reason, Netanyahu now appears desperate, as if he knows that either the Israeli public is no longer buying it, or that far too many just don’t have the patience for yet another election.
And so, just weeks after following through on his threat to dissolve the 21st Knesset if potential coalition partners didn’t accept his terms, the latest reports are that Netanyahu is now willing to do just about anything to avoid a second election this year. That includes even sharing power with those he previously labeled as being unworthy of power.
Ahead of this year’s first election, Netanyahu’s primary selling point was that the political Left would ruin Israel by surrendering to our enemies, and that he was the only viable leader on the Right. In fact, any right-wing politicians who didn’t fall in line with Netanyahu’s agenda were promptly labeled as “leftists” by his campaign.
But the scheme being proposed to avoid a second election is based on sharing the premiership with “Blue and White” head Benny Gantz, previously condemned by Netanyahu as a, you guessed it, “dangerous leftist.”
Gantz and his party aren’t opposed to a unity government, but won’t sign on until Likud replaces Netanyahu as its leader. And even if that were to happen (it won’t), it’s currently illegal to cancel a scheduled election. Doing so would require cutting short the Knesset’s summer break (good luck getting all the MKs to halt their vacations and come to work) and convincing a super-majority of 80 MKs to approve a new law empowering the government to cancel an election. In other words, are these guys serious?
According to Avigdor Liberman, they can’t be. He says it’s all spin. Even so, the very fact that such an unprecedented proposal is being seriously discussed, even negotiated between rival parties, demonstrates just how desperate Netanyahu has become.
“What is guiding Netanyahu tonight is not the good of the nation, but the fear of losing power,” read a statement issued by Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose refusal to join a Netanyahu coalition beholden to ultra-Orthodox parties precipitated the dissolution of the 21st Knesset.
Is Liberman right? After over a decade in power, is that all Netanyahu cares about any longer? The voters will decide come September 17, and there’s likely little Netanyahu can do to stop that. What is certain is that it’s going to be a lot harder to take seriously his campaign rhetoric after the zig-zagging of the past few days.