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Bibi's Breakdown

30 May 2019

On Wednesday night lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament after Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu failed to form a coalition. Israel is now headed for another general election, just six weeks after the last vote. It is also the first time that a prime minister-designate has failed to form a government in the country’s history.

Although Bibi and his allies narrowly won a majority in the elections held on 9 April, the subsequent weeks have exposed deep divisions among Israel’s hawks. The PM was heavily reliant on the support of former defence minister and long-term rival Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu party), who demanded the enactment of a new conscription bill which requires Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to serve in the military. The hard-line religious parties vehemently oppose the bill, which left Bibi stuck between the two positions which he failed to reconcile. He made last-ditch attempts to entice members of the Labour and Blue & White parties with offers of jobs, but to no avail.

Likud member Miki Zohar pushed for the bill to dissolve the Knesset, which prevented President Reuven Rivlin from asking another candidate to form a coalition and allowed Bibi to cling on to power for another four months. Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Hadash party, mocked Netanyahu over his last-ditch attempts to form a coalition. “My fellow Knesset members, I have a dramatic announcement,” said Odeh. “Seven minutes ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to me and he said he is willing to withdraw from the occupied territories and also to cancel the nation-state law.” The speech drew laughs from the few MPs remaining in the Knesset as the midnight deadline approached. It summed up a highly embarrassing night for the PM.

In response to the breakdown, Bibi tried to remain upbeat about his party’s prospects. “We'll run a sharp, clear election campaign which will bring us victory. We'll win, we'll win and the public will win," he said. However, the vote will take place two weeks before a pre-indictment hearing after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended pressing charges in three separate corruption cases. Immediately after his election victory in April, Bibi and his allies began work on a draft bill that would grant him immunity from prosecution. Even if he is victorious in the next vote, he will not have time to force through legislation which could save him from the indictment proceedings. A dark cloud will hang over him throughout the next few months of campaigning. At the weekend thousands of people joined a rally in Tel Aviv to condemn attempts to grant Bibi immunity from prosecution. Benny Gantz, who narrowly lost the first election, was in attendance at the rally. In response to Wednesday night’s drama in the Knesset, Gantz said: “An entire country woke up to a morning of disappointment and disbelief that due to one man’s incompetence and weakness, costly and unnecessary elections have been forced on it.” The PM’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, has also been embroiled in her own fraud case. This week she reportedly agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors, which will see her face lesser charges and reimburse the state over $12,000.

At the same time as parliament was being dissolved Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, arrived in Israel along with US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. They have travelled to discuss peace talks and the economic conference due to take place in Bahrain next month. The US have been trying to convince regional Arab states to back Trump’s economic proposals for the Palestinian economy, which have already been rejected by the Palestinian Authority. China and Russia also said they would be boycotting the event. "The Palestinian leadership has already categorically refused to take part, saying that the PLO will not surrender to anyone its exclusive rights to make crucial decisions regarding the realization of Palestinians' national aspirations," said Russia’s foreign ministry. Trump had vowed to push his peace plan through after Bibi’s election victory, now those plans might have to be put on ice until Israel’s political future is clearer.