Elections for the 21st Knesset, Israel's national parliament, are on April 9, 2019. At the moment there are thirteen political parties in the parliament divided over 120 seats. The big question is, will prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu be reelected?
Prime Minister Netanyahu travels a lot abroad. February 21, he flies to Moscow for talks focused on Iran’s efforts to establish military presence in Syria. He will meet President Putin for the first formal talks since Russia blamed Israel for the downing of a military aircraft by Syrian anti-aircraft fire last year. This will be the second meeting between the two leaders since Syria’s downing of a Russian intelligence plane in September, an incident Russia said Israel was indirectly responsible for and which strained Jerusalem-Moscow ties. Netanyahu and Putin met briefly in Paris in November on the sidelines of ceremonies commemorating 100 years since the end of World War I.
Hans Izaak Kriek*
His party, Likud, has now 30 seats and is the largest party in Israel.
The polls for him are good. The current coalition is the most right-wing in Israel's history. Netanyahu wants to continue this coalition after the elections.
Snap elections are normal in Israel; no government has served its full term since 1988. There was already a long-time speculation, that snap polls were again on the horizon. Since defense minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned in November.
Lieberman opposed a controversial ceasefire deal for the Hamas-held Gaza Strip, and his party's withdrawal from government deprived the coalition of five seats. Since then Netanyahu's coalition has been struggling with a only one-seat majority.
The immediate reason to call elections Was that coalition party leaders failed to agree on a key bill drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army. In a joint statement in December, these leaders said their decision was "in the name of budgetary and national responsibility."
Some political analysts, however, say that Netanyahu wanted the elections before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces whether he will indict the premier in three different corruption cases. While no official timeframe has been given, reports say that announcement could come in mid-April.
The thinking is that a fresh electoral mandate would leave Netanyahu better placed to combat potential charges. It would allow him to ramp up his argument that the investigations against him stem from a plot by political enemies to force him from office against the will of the electorate. He is not required to step down if indicted.
Who is expected to win?
Despite Netanyahu's recent legal and political troubles, polls conducted after recently announcement indicate he would retain power after new elections, putting him in line to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister. The opposition to Netanyahu is fractured. The center-left Zionist Union of Avi Gabbay, and Yair Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid are the largest groupings.
Wildcard figures could emerge, including former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, as polls show he could perform well in elections if he decides to create a new party or join an existing one.
Gantz said recently, that Netanyahu is divisive and can’t stay Prime Minister if indicted. He claims himself as the next prime minister, “My government will have zero tolerance for corruption.” Former prime minister Ehud Omert react: “Prime Minister Netanyahu does not deserve to remain prime minister.”
The parties battling against Likud, including Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Hatnua and the Arab parties, may not have a majority to form together a coalition or a political bloc prior to the election but, “I believe we will have enough seats to block another government led by Netanyahu,” Olmert said.
Foreign policy stronger than ever
Prime Minister Netanyahu meet lately a lot of international leaders in Israel or he’s going abroad. Recently he would go to Moscow for talks focused on Iran’s efforts to establish military presence in Syria. The personal meeting between Netanyahu and President Putin is postponed being rescheduled ‘in near future’, an Israeli official said. The official gave no reason for the postponement, but Israeli media believed it was related to Netanyahu’s strategising with allied right-wing parties for April 9 elections ahead of a Thursday deadline for electoral lists to be submitted.
The postponed meeting will be their first extensive face-to-face talks since a friendly fire incident in September that led to a Russian plane being downed by Syrian air defences during an Israeli raid, which angered the Kremlin. Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets, and the Jewish state and Russia have set up a ‘de-confliction’ hotline to avoid accidental clashes.
Netanyahu has pledged to stop Israel's main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the neighboring country. Both Russia and Iran are allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have helped his forces inflict numerous defeats on rebels and jihadists. Prime minister Netanyahu said: “It’s very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria. In many ways we’ve blocked that advance and we’re committed to continue blocking it, preventing Iran from creating another war-front against us, right here opposite the Golan Heights.
What about Trump's peace plan?
US President Trump's "ultimate deal" for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the details of which are unknown to the public, was supposed to be unveiled by the end of last year but will probably be delayed due to the elections. Netanyahu, who has been backed strongly by Trump and his administration, said he was "looking forward" to working with the peace plan.
Palestinian leaders, who severed ties with Trump's administration after the decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declared the city Israel's capital, already said they have nothing to do with the peace plan.
According to a senior White House official the United States, “The upcoming elections in Israel are one of many factors we are considering evaluating the timing of the release of the plan. The elections may affect peace-plan rollout.”
Netanyahu brought Donald Trump in the Likud campaign. In a video appearance, he said: “And frankly, a strong prime minister is a strong Israel, and you truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu, there is nobody like him.
He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all and people really do have great, great respect for what’s happening in Israel. So, vote for Benjamin, terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”
In a few weeks, we know the outcome of the elections.
*International political commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief of Kriek Media