Politics: Embarking on early elections
Why the prime minister seems set to pass up on history to go to the polls.
Netanyahu addresses AIPAC Photo: REUTERS
At the April 30 funeral of Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres told
mourning Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that while his father had written
about history, he was making it.
One week later, the prime minister ended
the process of advancing elections, giving himself a chance to make history by
having one government complete an entire term in office on the exact date that
it was supposed to by law: October 22, 2013.
Who was the last prime
minister to do that? It depends on how you define it.
The last Knesset
election held on time occurred on November 1, 1988, after the Knesset lasted
more than four years. But can you count a government that, thanks to a rotation
agreement between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, had two prime ministers?
Menachem Begin’s first term in office lasted four years, but the 1981 election
was set for November and was advanced by six months, so that doesn’t really
count either. Golda Meir in 1973? Her term was extended by the Yom Kippur War,
so she also doesn’t qualify.
The 1969 election was held on time on
October 28, 1969, but the previous term had two prime ministers due to the death
of Levi Eshkol and his replacement by Meir. Eshkol and David Ben-Gurion were
both prime minister in the term before that.
Ben-Gurion was the only
prime minister in the third Knesset, which lasted more than four years, and the
1959 election was held in November. But Ben-Gurion resigned in 1957, and
although he formed the same coalition a week later, technically it was a
So the answer is remarkably: None of the
Not one Israeli prime minister has done it, and Netanyahu still
can. All he has to do is pass the 2013 state budget, and he can complete his
term and go down in history as the prime minister with the most stable
And yet, it appears the prime minister’s mind is made
up. Barring unforeseen circumstances, when the Knesset comes back to session on
October 15, he will initiate a February election. Why would Netanyahu, who has
such a sense of history, give up a rare chance to make it? Senior Likud
officials who understand the prime minister’s thinking said the historical
trivia listed above was the only reason they could think of to not go to
elections. They had many more reasons why it would be smart for Netanyahu to go
to the polls.
Netanyahu will explain his decision in a speech to the
cabinet on October 14 or to the Likud faction the following day. Meanwhile, the
senior Likud officials offered 10 logical explanations:
1. Iran is always
Netanyahu’s foremost consideration.
It is good to get the next election
out of the way before dealing with Iran. In his speech to the United Nations
General Assembly, Netanyahu appeared to extend his deadline for preventing
Iran’s nuclearization to spring or summer, giving him until then to complete
internal political business.
When Netanyahu appeared to initiate an
election in May, he said he was doing it to “lead Israel in the face of the
great challenges still ahead of us.” In the event that all other options fail
and Netanyahu has to initiate war with Iran, his advisers have told him that it
would be taking a huge risk to attack before elections. They said a strike
against Iran’s nuclear facilities could make him a hero or end his political
2. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s views on Iran have changed over time, as the Americans persuaded him to be more cautious while
failing to convince Netanyahu.
One of Netanyahu’s main reasons for not
initiating an election in September was that he wanted to keep Barak as his
defense minister and he was concerned that an election would end the unpopular
Barak’s political career. Now he is less concerned about that.
Netanyahu does not like being undermined. He was not afraid to start a public
fight with Peres when he thought the president crossed a red line, even though
picking a fight with the man who will choose the next prime minister was
Going to elections now and making an issue of Barak’s disloyalty
could deter politicians from misbehaving in his next term. If Barak does cross
the threshold and become a minister again, he will know to be more careful in
his dealings with the US. That deterrence is important to Netanyahu, who fears
that Barak and US President Barack Obama could conspire against him on the
4. In the statement he issued on Tuesday revealing
that he was considering elections, Netanyahu made a point of saying that he
might go to the polls after completing four years in office. He was elected on
February 10, 2009.
If the next election is held February 12, 2013, it
would be an undeniable accomplishment. It’s not Netanyahu’s fault that the law
goes by the Jewish calendar, which made his current term four years and nine
5. The polls are good. A Dialog poll in Haaretz a week ago
predicted that the Likud would rise from 27 seats to 28 and the Center- Right
bloc from 65 to 66. The poll indicated that he had recovered from unpopular
decisions about drafting yeshiva students and forming a national-unity
government with Kadima. Who can say that the polls would be just as good a year
from now? 6. One reason Netanyahu is doing so well in the polls is that no
Center-Left politician is viewed as a serious contender.
minister is scared that four parties on the Center-Left could unite and pose a
serious challenge. He wants to hold the election when they are
7. Senior Likud sources believe that former prime minister Ehud
Olmert will still be in court next October, but why take chances? Netanyahu’s
people stressed that Olmert is a minor consideration, but they also called a
potential comeback by him “a game-changer.”
It would be wise to hold
elections now when he is still on trial in the Holyland scandal and an appeal of
his acquittal in the Talansky Affair is about to be filed by the State
8. Oh, yeah. The budget. This was the reason given
publicly for initiating elections. It is not as important as the first seven
reasons, but it is a factor.
There are those who argue that delaying the
election is bad for the economy because it means the budget passed in December
2010 could remain in place for two-and-a-half years.
officials are smart.
They already raised the valueadded tax, which will
make millions for the government’s coffers.
Populist benefits promised by
the Finance Ministry to various sectors will only take effect in the next budget
once it passes. That’s what economists call “fiscal responsibility.”
When he appeared to initiate an election in May, Netanyahu said he could no
longer put up with his coalition partners’ threats to violate coalition
discipline and act increasingly independently.
That’s still true – not
only with Shas and Barak on the budget.
Netanyahu was worried that
Yisrael Beytenu would pick a fight with United Torah Judaism on drafting yeshiva
students. And whoever wins the November 6 Habayit Hayehudi primary race could
flex his political muscles, especially it it is Naftali Bennett, whom Sara
Netanyahu reportedly detests.
Better to go to an election now and preempt
10. The prime minister regrets forming a short-lived
nationalunity government in May. Had he initiated a September 4 election, he
would have already received a vote of confidence, and he could have come to the
UN General Assembly on Cloud Nine.
Netanyahu believes it is extremely
important not to repeat mistakes.
That, after all, is one of the key
lessons of history.