By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
As the days ticked away in May it suddenly became clear to Israelis that the deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government was fast approaching. He already received one extension. He was supposed to hand the mandate back to the President if he couldn’t get his squabbling coalition partners to agree.
But then a bombshell. The parties were considering dissolving the Knesset, just elected in April, and going to new elections. This isn’t because Israeli politics is hopelessly divided, it is because Netanyahu wants to control the right wing parties and get them to rely on him, more than they rely on eachother. He refused to cater to Yisrael Beitnu’s Avigdor Lieberman, who wanted a draft law for the haredim (Ultra-Orthodox). But that wasn’t the full reason. Lieberman was trying to set the pace and Netanyahu wouldn’t allow that. Lieberman had done the same in the fall of 2018, resigning when he couldn’t get his way in a new Gaza conflict. He wants to be relevant.
But why would Netanyahu go back to elections? Isn’t it a risk.
Here is his calculation.
Netanyahu remains in power
Netanyahu will remain in power as the country prepares for new elections. That is what he wants. He wants to extend his 10 year rule further.
The Prime Minister is also trying to outplay the attorney general and looming corruption indictments. He wants to slow play it. New elections could add more confusion and demands to postpone hearings.
Get Lieberman out of the Knesset
Netanyahu calculates that in the next election Lieberman may not make the threshold, his five mandates will go to someone else. That could Ayelet Shaked or someone else. The goal of Netanyahu is to break Lieberman. Lieberman has more to lose.
Thwart Gantz through Kulanu
The PM also sought to bring Kulanu into his party just before Wednesday to prevent any chance that parties might bolt and not want to dissolve the Knesset, preferring to seek a Gantz Prime Minister. The Blue and White Party has equal seats to Likud. It should be given the right to try to form a government. But going to elections thwarts Gantz. Netanyahu needed to neuter Kulanu before the Wednesday vote and force Kulanu into the Likud camp.
Polls show another win for Likud
Netanyahu thinks he will do well in fall elections. He hopes also that some other allies might emerge on the right. Israeli voters are increasingly trending right wing and they don’t tell pollsters they will punish Netanyahu in the next election. Also the Prime Minister can seek to call out the religious voters with claims he stood by them against Lieberman.
These are the cynical calculation of the Israeli leader. It’s all about short term gains and also about staying in power. He thinks he is the only one who can manage Israel’s ship of state in a challenging time. He will do what it takes to remain.
Postpone the Trump peace plan
Netanyahu thinks peace plans lead to violence because of expectations. He sought to slow play things during the Obama years. He hopes that new elections could also prevent the “deal of the century.”