In the beginning of March 2020, Israel had just completed its third inconclusive election in less than 12 months, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barely shy of his preferred right-wing-majority coalition.
Yet, a conglomerate of left-wing parties and right-wing Netanyahu defectors were no closer to ousting Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
With neither side seemingly able to form a government, rival politicians attempted a judicial and parliamentary putsch, by tabling new legislation that would forbid Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while facing corruption charges.
The power play took place just weeks after Netanyahu’s Likud had received the most votes for any party in Israel’s history—despite the looming indictments.
The attempt ended in the resignation of longtime Knesset Speaker and Netanyahu loyalist Yuli Edelstein, whose authority to control parliamentary procedure—which is enshrined in Israel’s Basic Law—was encroached on by Israel’s left-leaning and hyper-activist Supreme Court.
Facing an intractable electoral crisis and a global pandemic certain to infiltrate Israel’s borders, political challenger Benny Gantz was pressured into severing his own Blue and White political alignment and broke his repeated campaign promise by agreeing to join a Netanyahu-led unity government.
Gantz extracted a heavy price from Netanyahu in exchange for the unlikely agreement. Netanyahu offered to hand over the reins of his office to Gantz in November 2021 as part of a rotation arrangement.
Gantz similarly received an outsized number of portfolios for his remaining party members, including the coveted defense, foreign affairs and justice ministries.
Changes were made to Israel’s Basic Law to facilitate the unprecedented deal, and numerous clauses were negotiated to ensure that if Netanyahu attempted to break the coalition terms, Gantz would automatically become prime minister before a new election.
From the outset, it was clear that the marriage of opposing parties was not meant to last.
As soon as the deal was inked, Blue and White served as an opposition party from within the coalition, always one no-confidence vote away from crashing the government, while Netanyahu was forced to govern with a dysfunctional Cabinet and parliament.
The two parties failed to pass a budget for 2020, which in Israeli law is an automatic trigger for elections. This specific trigger was also the only scenario according to the coalition agreement in which Gantz would not automatically take over as prime minister.
As it became clear that Netanyahu had no intention of honoring the rotation arrangement, it was equally obvious that no budget would be passed.
When an extended deadline expired earlier this week, the fourth Knesset elections in less than two years were set on course, with the date for the event scheduled for March 23, 2021.
Meanwhile, without a formal budget, which affects the functioning of government ministries, and without a functional parliament, Netanyahu continued to deliver for the State of Israel.
More astonishingly, in a year of geopolitical turmoil, Netanyahu singlehandedly delivered the world’s greatest geopolitical achievement.
The Abraham Accords. In the past four months, Israel has signed historic normalization agreements with the Sunni-majority countries of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Just prior to this week’s budget deadline, Sa’ar announced his resignation from Likud and the formation of the New Hope party, created to pose a center-right alternative to the Likud.
Some other Likud members, including Minister of Water Resources and Higher Education Ze’ev Elkin, have defected to join Sa’ar.
New Hope is presently polling at close to 20 mandates, 10 seats shy of the Likud. Sa’ar is now the newly minted head of the greater anti-Netanyahu political camp.
Like Gantz during the previous election cycle, Sa’ar has pledged not to sit in a Netanyahu-led government. The third most popular party in early polling is the right-wing Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett.
Bennett has lambasted Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic and attacked the dysfunctional coalition, which his party refused to join earlier this year.
Serving in the opposition has boosted the popularity of the small, six-seat party that failed to cross the electoral threshold altogether during the second of the three consecutive elections.
If Sa’ar and Bennett place the will of a decidedly right-wing electorate ahead of their own political ambitions, Israel will be on track to assemble the largest right-wing government in the history of the Jewish State, with Netanyahu once again at the helm.
Going into a fourth election, it is clear that Netanyahu has every ambition to continue leading the country, and has once again proven to be capable of crushing his political opponents while achieving momentous accomplishments for the Jewish state.
And while new elections are yet again an imperfect outcome for Israel’s far-from-stable parliamentary system, Israelis can be thankful that when the system breaks down, the mandate is once again returned to the public.
Jerusalem Post / ABC Flash Point Middle East News 2020.