Israel heads for third elections with Netanyahu weakened by indictments
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.
- Likud's anti-Bibi camp is led by former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, who will challenge Netanyahu for party chairman on Dec. 26 — the first serious primary Netanyahu has faced since 2007.
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.