Israel is aswirl with rumors that Bibi Netanyahu is preparing to call new national elections. There is a superficial cause and there is a hidden subtext behind his strategy. The fake reason Bibi tells Israel is that he’s incensed about the impending launch of the Israel public broadcasting corporation (IPBC); despite the fact that he himself devised the original idea for the IPBC, and saw it as a means to break the hold (as he saw it) of the liberal elites on the state media. After thinking better of the idea and trying to persuade the Knesset to dump it, he failed.
As a result, he’s now claiming that this is such a critical issue that he must (MUST!) take the issue to the voters and let them decide if he is right or wrong. The PM posted the first video above about the supposed grave injustices being done to employees who supposedly will lose their jobs as part of the transition to the new broadcasting authority. In the second video (about 00:45″), as he prepares for yet another foreign visit–this time to China–to prove his indispensability to the nation, he condemns his coalition partners for not agreeing to cancel the IPBC. This is laying the groundwork for going to the people and claiming the disagreement is insoluble and can only be resolved by new elections.
As with much of Israeli politics, the outward explanation is nonsense: Bibi’s real reason is that the state prosecutor is about to announce an indictment against him on one or more of the three separate corruption cases being pursued against him. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in a past decision that any minister indicted must resign. Though it never ruled that an indicted PM should resign, it’s quite possible that the Court would agree with past precedent and force Bibi to quit. Ehud Olmert did not want to resign after his indictment, but his coalition partners forced him to. After he was convicted, he served a prison term for corruption. This is the outcome the current PM desperately wants to avoid.
Netanyahu, believing that an indictment is imminent, is betting he can withstand pressure to resign if he goes to the people and wins a new mandate. He’ll give his opponents an opportunity to raise the corruption allegation during the debate surrounding the election. If he wins he’ll be able to face down calls for his resignation, arguing the voters knew about the charges against him and chose him in spite of them. This would force the Israeli electorate and political class to respond in a unified fashion if they wished to oust him. Anyone observing Israeli politics knows there is no such thing as unity or consensus. Everyone goes their separate ways and looks out for their own personal interest or that of their particular ethnic group or class. So Bibi is daring his enemies to do what he believes is impossible.
The latest polls show Bibi’s main rival, Yair Lapid of the soft-right Yesh Atid Party, trailing him by only one seat (26-25). That’s a decline of four seats from Likud’s current Knesset faction. Of course, if an indictment is announced that will work against Bibi. But the PM is a wily political survivor who has pulled irons out of the fire in the past to win against seemingly impossible odds. One of the biggest losers according to the poll would be the former Labor Party, which would decline from 24 to 10 seats (Labor’s loss is Lapid’s gain). This indicates a further hardening of the electorate as voters move from more or less the center (Labor) to the soft-right (Yesh Atid).
Please God, let’s not hear foreign journalists talk about how these elections may bode well for political change regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. There will be no change. The election won’t be fought on this issue and Israelis hardly care about it. Of course that won’t stop the NY Times, Washington Post, White House, etc. from waxing eloquent about how this presents an opportunity for peace. Just spare me…
This article was published at Tikun Olam.