Israel heads to 3rd election in one year amid unprecedented political deadlock

The year 2019 is arguably a year of unprecedented political deadlock for Israelis who are now just a step away from scheduling a third general election within a year.

Since before the first election held in April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the focus of this wrestle in which he has been fighting for his political survival amid allegations of corruption and bribery.

Now as the Wednesday midnight deadline is getting closer, many are hoping for a last-minute save of the country from another exhausting campaign. Otherwise, the parliament will have to be dissolved for a third election expected in March 2020.

However, Netanyahu’s grasp on his ruling party is so robust that it is almost unlikely for a member of parliament to muster the 61 votes needed to form a government.

“He hasn’t allowed an heir in the Likud party,” said Jonathan Rynhold, a professor of the Political Studies Department at Bar Ilan University.

“There has never been anyone in the Likud who has ever concentrated so much political capital and patronage in their own hands,” he explained.

But after two successive failed attempts to form a coalition following the previous elections, Netanyahu’s legal woes appear to be a greater impediment than he would like to believe.

Last month, after three years of investigations, this longest-serving Israeli prime minister was officially indicted on three counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

If Netanyahu remains in office as prime minister, he can ask for immunity from prosecution and has a greater chance of beating the charges against him, or at the very least cutting a better deal should he be found guilty, according to experts.

“It is the first time we have a Prime Minister under indictment and consecutive failed attempts to form a government,” said Liran Harsgor from the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz, former Israeli army chief and leader of the Blue and White party, has vowed that he will not sit in a coalition with a prime minister under indictment.

Even the proposal that Netanyahu is given a few more months at the helm before handing over the keys to Gantz has been declined by the Blue and White.

Worse still, more and more voices from within Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc are also calling for his removal.

“Regrettably, the national bloc has to acknowledge that Netanyahu in his current state has become a burden,” wrote Kalman Libskind, a leading right-wing publicist, in an Israeli newspaper.

Nevertheless, Harsgor told Xinhua that Israel still “needs time to let go of a leader (like Netanyahu) who has led for such a long time.”

“Netanyahu has been the main mover and shaker in recent years,” she said. “The other players are not as politically creative as him.”

Polls conducted by media outlets in recent weeks have shown that a third election will not produce a dramatically different result as the divisions within the majority of the Israeli society remain unchanged.

In fact, a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White sounds as improbable as a minority government by one of the two parties.

“The campaigns this time were very much focused on coalitions, not on policy,” explained Harsgor. “One can compromise on economics and social issues, but it is difficult to compromise on personnel issues.”

“If Netanyahu had an experienced politician as a rival, there would probably be a solution. Political newcomers have difficulty doing politics,” she added.