Sep 16, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Israel election: Netanyahu fights for immunity as indictment looms

Benjamin Netanyahu stands at a podium to announce annexation plans.

Netanyahu announces on Sept. 10 that he'll annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank if he's re-elected. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel holds elections Tuesday for the second time in less than 6 months, and the latest election polls showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party getting close to the magic number of 61 members in the Knesset for a right-wing bloc.

Why it matters: Netanyahu needs a 61-member right-wing coalition to win immunity if the attorney general decides to indict him for 3 cases of corruption after his upcoming hearing on Oct. 3.

  • He'd also need 61 to pass a law allowing the Knesset to overrule the supreme court if it were to conclude Netanyahu’s immunity status were illegal.

Driving the news: The last polls, published Friday, showed Likud tied with Benny Gantz's Blue and White party, with 32 seats each.

  • In the previous elections, they were tied at 35 seats.
  • But the latest polls also showed the right-wing bloc is at 58 or 59 seats. That's the highest since the beginning of the campaign.

The big question: What happens if neither Netanyahu nor Gantz can form a coalition, a scenario that could drag Israel into the most protracted political crisis of its history.

  • Prospects for a unity government look dim given the political stakes on both sides. Gantz has already committed not to sit in a coalition headed by Netanyahu with indictments pending.

Such an extraordinary situation would set up 2 key players:

  • Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, who has the authority to decide who gets the mandate to form the government and who could try to find a compromise that will solve the political crisis.
  • Trump, who supports Netanyahu and already has sought to shore up his political fortunes.

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