Compilation photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UTJ leader Yaacov Litzman.
(photo credit: MARC SELLEM/YOEL LEVI)
Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left the country in the middle of a political crisis, there has been constant speculation about what he wants.
Would his criminal probes make him want to expedite elections, or to keep his current coalition intact for as long as possible? Why has he not taken a more active role in ending the crisis? And what is his actual opinion on the matter at hand: haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription?
None of those answers will be revealed until Sunday at the earliest, when he convenes the cabinet, speaks to the nation on camera, and then meets behind closed doors with the heads of the parties in the coalition.
Until then, all we can do is speculate on the four possible outcomes of the crisis:
Netanyahu resolves the crisis and elections are avoided – 50% chance of happening
The prime minister says he wants to resolve it, but while Bayit Yehudi ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were constantly in touch with Israel from Washington, Netanyahu appointed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to mediate, and he did nothing. The message received by coalition partners from Netanyahu’s associates traveling with him was that he will do them a favor and resolve the crisis only if they help him out in return by guaranteeing they will not bring his government down if he is indicted. Bennett has refused, which could impact Netanyahu’s decision. In this scenario, Netanyahu either decides staying in power will help his case, or he makes a purely professional decision, regardless of the investigations.
Coalition partners refuse to compromise, causing elections – 10%
Netanyahu comes home from the US, rolls up his sleeves, pounds on the table Ariel Sharon-style, and demands concessions from his coalition partners. But despite a valiant effort, Deputy Health Minister and UTJ leader Ya’acov Litzman says his rabbi won’t let him remain in the government if a law is not passed immediately to prevent yeshiva students from being drafted. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu refuse to legislate the bill. With elections looming, none of them feels he can compromise on an issue his voters care about. The coalition breaks up, even though Netanyahu wanted it to last. He heads a transition government until after the elections and the formation of a new government.
Netanyahu decides he wants elections, goes to Rivlin – 20%
The prime minister realizes his coalition partners have stopped getting along, or he decides to seek a vote of confidence from the nation before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decides whether to indict him for bribery. He submits his resignation to President Reuven Rivlin and asks him to disperse the Knesset and initiate a general election within 100 days. But this is risky, because Rivlin is then supposed to check whether another MK can form a government with the current Knesset. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union has said repeatedly that he can. Perhaps Kahlon can as well. A Likud MK could do so much easier, but none would dare stand up to Netanyahu. Then again, Rivlin could discourage forming a new government, because either the November 2019 election date is too soon anyway, or to help his friend and former campaign manager Gideon Sa’ar, who cannot form a government because he is not currently an MK.
Netanyahu decides he wants elections, asks Knesset to disperse itself – 20%
Bypassing Rivlin, Netanyahu asks coalition chairman David Amsalem to draft a bill that would likely result in close to half the Knesset members losing their jobs, and to pass it within a week. Despite the personal anguish of the MKs who know they will not return, theoretically such a bill could pass unanimously. But there is one problem: The bill must name a date for the election, and there must be a majority for that designation. Netanyahu would want it held on the earliest possible date – Tuesday, June 26. That is as soon as possible after Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations and as far as possible before the indictment decision. But his rivals know that, too. Why help Netanyahu? Parties in the coalition can join opposition MKs in preferring elections in the fall to harm Netanyahu both legally and politically.