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Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Pool, Gali Tibbon/Getty Images

The Bibi Barometer is a weekly feature of the new Axios from Tel Aviv newsletter. Sign up here.

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.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Netanyahu doesn't want a fight with Biden over Iran — yet

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Biden intends to try to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The two are on a collision course, and memories are fresh of the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations when Netanyahu was publicly campaigning against Barack Obama's attempts to reach a deal — including in a speech to Congress.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate action on stimulus bill continues as Dems reach deal on jobless aid

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic leaders struck an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on emergency unemployment insurance late Friday, clearing the way for Senate action on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package to resume after an hours-long delay.

The state of play: The Senate will now work through votes on a series of amendments that are expected to last overnight into early Saturday morning.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.