Netanyahu could face an election rematch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to declare himself winner of last month’s Israeli election, but he now has until
Wednesday to appease an erstwhile ally, form a government and avoid a possible rematch. The man at the centre of the crisis in Netanyahu’s coalition-building, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is sticking to his guns in a stalemate over military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students.
The brinkmanship six weeks after the April 9 election poses another challenge to the decade-long reign of the right-wing leader some Israelis have hailed as “King Bibi” and deepens political uncertainty in a country riven with division.
Barring a breakthrough, Israel could hold a new election, with parliament already making initial moves towards a fresh poll and legislators proposing September for the national vote.
Without the support of Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, which has five seats in the 120-member Knesset, Netanyahu cannot put together a majority government led by his Likud party. Under a deadline mandated by law, he has until 2100 GMT on Wednesday to announce a new administration. Political commentators were hedging their bets. “Netanyahu is a wounded animal.
Rivals had already smelled blood in the water when Israel’s attorney general said in February he intends to charge Netanyahu in three graft cases. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a political witch-hunt. But in the closely contested April election, Netanyahu — dubbed “crime minister” by his opponents — appeared on course for a fifth term as head of a right-wing bloc.
All it would take, according to conventional wisdom, was the usual wheeling and dealing on cabinet posts and allied factions’ pet projects. Few imagined Netanyahu would not put a coalition together, even after he asked for and received a two-week extension to an original 28-day deadline.
Suddenly, Lieberman became a wild card and the clock was ticking, with Netanyahu facing a scenario in which President Reuven Rivlin could pick another legislator to try to form a government if he failed.
“A lot can be done in 48 hours,” Netanyahu said on Monday after parliament gave initial approval to a motion to dissolve itself.
“The voters’ wishes can be respected, a strong right-wing government can be formed,” he said.
If efforts to break the political deadlock fail, parliament would take a final vote on an election on Wednesday. A new ballot would mean Rivlin could not choose someone else to put together a governing coalition. — Reuters

Jeffrey Heller