Dec 11, 2019 - World

Israel heads for third elections with Netanyahu weakened by indictments

Netanyahu (2nd from right) at a meeting of right-wing parties. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel's political drama is entering yet another unprecedented stage. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, dissolved itself tonight, and the third election in under a year was set for March.

Why it matters: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing three corruption indictments, and the March election could be his last. Netanyahu and his top rival, Benny Gantz, both failed to form a government during 80 days of negotiations following September's vote.

Between the lines: Netanyahu's legal situation is the main factor keeping the country in political deadlock.

  • Netanyahu’s political power and public support have gradually weakened since April, after the first in this string of elections.
  • Around 55% of Israelis think Netanyahu should resign due to the indictments for fraud and breach of trust.

How we got here: During the negotiations, Netanyahu and Gantz attempted to form a national unity government in which the post of prime minister would rotate between them. It never came close to reality, mainly due to the deep mistrust on both sides.

  • The main obstacle was Netanyahu's insistence that he serve first as PM, which would strengthen his legal position.
  • Netanyahu's negotiators even suggested he serve for just six months — to bolster his legacy by annexing the Jordan Valley and signing a defense treaty with the Trump administration.

Behind the scenes: Gantz toyed with the idea of breaking a promise not to serve under Netanyahu with the indictments still looming to prevent a third election.

  • He was eventually convinced that Netanyahu couldn't be trusted to step down after six months.
  • One factor was Netanyahu’s refusal to meet Gantz’s demand that he not attempt to avoid a trial through parliamentary immunity.

Netanyahu and Gantz spent the last two weeks arguing over who is responsible for the deadlock.

  • Opinion polls show Israelis mostly take Gantz’s side. On average, around 40% of Israelis think Netanyahu is to blame, while around 5% blame Gantz.

Netanyahu is also under unprecedented pressure from within his Likud Party.

The latest: Two polls published this week show Gantz's center-left bloc gaining support and Netanyahu's right-wing bloc slipping.

  • On Tuesday night, Channel 13 published a dramatic poll that showed Gantz’s Blue and White party four seats ahead of Likud, with the center-left bloc receiving 60 seats and the right-wing bloc 52.
  • Support for another key party, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is stable at eight seats. Lieberman refuses to join either bloc and demands a unity government.

But, but, but: The elections are three months away and a lot can change.

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