The Irish Times view on Israel’s coalition talks: back to the people

Triggering a new election may help Netanyahu in the short-term, but his legal troubles leave him vulnerable

Having failed to form a coalition government before the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu moved to dissolve parliament and trigger new elections. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Having failed to form a coalition government before the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu moved to dissolve parliament and trigger new elections. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

 

Less than two months after Israelis went to the polls, the country is back in election mode. Having failed to form a coalition government before the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu moved to dissolve parliament and trigger new elections, which will be held in on September 17th. By acting quickly, he saw off the alternative scenario of president Reuven Rivlin asking the centrists to try and form a ruling coalition.

The unprecedented collapse was nominally due to a dispute between Netanyahu and the ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a small secular nationalist party that Netanyahu needed to form a majority, over the conscription of ultraorthodox Jews (Lieberman wanted to remove exemptions for the Haredi community, an important part of Netanyahu’s support base). Looming over everything, however, are Netanyahu’s legal troubles; several cases involving allegations of corruption, fraud and breach of trust are expected to come to a head in the autumn.

He has denied the allegations against him, but the coalition talks were complicated by the prime minister’s demand for laws that would grant him and members of the Knesset immunity from prosecution while in office. Netanyahu’s would-be partners demanded a high price for that.

In the short-term, Netanyahu could be rewarded for his latest gambit. Opinion polls suggest he would win another election, perhaps more comfortably than last time.

Right-wing parties are talking to each other about new alliances, so there are likely to be fewer factions to split the vote. However, new elections, assuming the subsequent coalition talks push into October or even November, will make it difficult for Netanyahu to get an immunity law passed before the attorney general decides whether to go ahead with his plan to indict the prime minister.

“The myth that Netanyahu can get whatever he wants collapsed tonight,” said the centrist leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday evening. Netanyahu, the man who has dominated Israeli politics like no other for three decades, looks vulnerable.

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