Oct 21, 2020 - World

Bibi Barometer: Second wave blues

Illustration of Benjamin Netanyahu barometer
Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Pool, Gali Tibbon/Getty Images

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Israel is slowly emerging from its second national COVID-19 lockdown, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is struggling to rebound politically from widespread criticism over his handling of the second wave.

Why it matters: Israel’s power-sharing government — the dysfunctional result of a year-long political standoff — is in danger of collapse less than six months after it was formed. Israel could soon face new elections, perhaps in March.

  • Netanyahu would enter them at possibly his weakest point politically in the last decade.
  • His trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is due to resume in January with witness testimony and the presentation of evidence. Netanyahu may have to sit in the courtroom three days a week to wage his defense.
  • For the last three months, there have been frequent demonstrations near Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem led by young people frustrated by the economic crisis and the government’s handling of COVID-19.

Flashback: Netanyahu’s approval ratings looked strong in May as his new government was sworn in, with the first wave of the pandemic having been suppressed by an early lockdown

  • The exit from lockdown proved far trickier politically, and his party slid in the polls from a projected 40 seats to 27 amid perceptions he’d mishandled it.
  • Netanyahu’s relations with coalition partner Benny Gantz are terrible, and their power-sharing government is dysfunctional and paralyzed.
  • Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s archrival Naftali Bennett, who heads a hardline right-wing party, has eaten into his conservative base and even picked up some center-left voters by focusing relentlessly on the pandemic.
  • A recent poll projected 24 seats for Bennett’s party in a potential election — three times the number it has today.

What’s next: The next two months will be critical for the future of Netanyahu’s government.

  • If it fails to pass a 2020 budget before Dec. 23, it will automatically collapse, triggering early elections.
  • Gantz is insisting that the 2021 budget be passed this year as well, but Netanyahu wants to put that off until March.
  • If no agreement is reached by mid-November, Israel will be on track for yet another election.
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