Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered advisors to explore the possibility of holding general elections in August or September, already naming 14 August or 4 September as possible voting dates.
According to opinion polls conducted on Monday, Netanyahu’s Likud party is currently growing stronger and if elections were held this week, the right-wing would win a narrow majority in the Israeli Knesset.
According the poll, conducted by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot and the Dahaf Institute, Likud would win 30 mandates – compared to the 27 it currently holds, Kadima headed by Shaul Mofaz would win 10 Knesset seats, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid Party (There is a Future), would get 11 seats while Labour would win 18.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin hinted that elections could take place at the end of August or in early September, or at the very latest in the first week of November. “They will be held anywhere between 94 days from now and five months from now”, he said.
Parliamentary elections in Israelare not due until October 2013.
Israeli commentators cite three primary reasons for early elections: a coalition crisis on the question of imposing military service on ultra-orthodox Jewish citizens, the possible criminal prosecution of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the upcoming presidential elections in theUnited States.
Netanyahu met on Sunday morning with representatives of the “suckers’ encampment” in his Jerusalem office, subsequently publishing a statement that places him firmly against the ultra Orthodox parties with regard to the Tal Law and military enlistment.
At the meeting Netanyahu said “I know there are many hitchhikers who voted in favor of an automatic extension of the Tal Law, I’m not one of them. The Tal Law will be replaced by a more egalitarian law, a more just law, and I will be the one to put it forward”.
The Tal Law provides the legal framework for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to defer military service indefinitely. In February the High Court of Justice ruled in favour of petitions against the law, which exempts religious studies’ students from military service. The law, set to expire in August, will subsequently not be extended.
According to a survey commissioned by the online media source Ynet and Gesher, an organization dedicated to promoting unity inIsrael, half of the public believe that a compromise is the only acceptable way to sway the ultra-orthodox to serve inIsrael’s army.
The poll found that 72% of Jews in Israeli believe that members of the ultra-orthodox sector have the duty to serve in the army. Of them, 54% asserted thatIsrael’s universal conscription law should apply to everyone equally, and that the ultra-orthodox should shoulder the burden as well, while 18% identified army service as a ‘religious commandment’.
Ultra Orthodox political parties claim they will stop supporting Netanyahu’s coalition if the Tal Law is not extended, such that the governing coalition would lose its parliamentary majority. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, the second largest party in the coalition, is committed to universal conscription. Yisrael Beitenu has already proposed a law in this matter and claims it is ready to leave the coalition if necessary.
However, Lieberman himself has other reasons to support early elections. On Monday, eleven years after a criminal investigation against him was launched, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said a decision on whether to prosecute the foreign minister will be reached “within weeks”.
In a letter to the Movement for Quality Government inIsrael, Weinstein said he was waiting to receive additional written statements from Lieberman’s defense attorney, following hearings that took place in January and February.
Last April, Weinstein announced that he was considering charging the foreign minister with fraud, breach of trust, fraud in aggravated circumstances, money laundering and harassing a witness. According to suspicions, Lieberman committed the acts between 2001 and 2008, during which he served as a Knesset member and government minster.
In August 2009, the police recommended that Lieberman be put on trial for taking bribes, fraudulently receiving goods, obstructing justice, harassing witnesses and laundering millions of shekels through a number of shell companies and bank accounts.
Police estimated that Lieberman pocketed someNIS10 million (about $2.6M) in bribes.
If elections will be carried out as scheduled, in October 2013, Lieberman may be legally prevented from running. However,if elections are held this summer or in early autumn, Lieberman will be able to present himself as the underdog, persecuted by the elites whilst pocketing popular sympathies.
Finally, Netanyahu would like the Israeli parliamentary elections to be held before a possible second term of US President Barack Obama. The Likud fears that the lack of sympathy between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister could be translated into an openly hostileUSpolicy aimed at changingIsrael’s government following the presidential elections. Many recall the White House animosity toward the Yitzhak Shamir government, which led to collapse of the latter in 1992 parliamentary elections.
If Netanyahu is reelected prior to theUSpresidential elections, he can shield himself for another four years in office despite possibleUSpressure.
For the first time since 1991, the decision to call for early elections has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, these elections will strengthen the right wing’s grip on Israeli politics, thus empowering the ongoing Israeli assault on the Palestinian Authority and overwhelming the conciliatory policies adopted by the Mahmoud Abbas-Salam Fyyad caretaker government. The incapacity of the Palestinian Authorities, the one ruled from Ramallah as well as the one inGaza, to provide a strategic alternative to this Israeli assault may lead to their collapse following the elections inIsrael.
* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center