Is Israel going to elections? Here are Netanyahu’s 5 options

A look at what the under-pressure prime minister can do to avoid a fourth election in 19 months.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu
Will Israel go to new elections in three weeks?
No one except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to know the answer – and it’s not even clear that he has made up his mind.
In May, Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement that said the unity government they established would pass a two-year budget. This was one of the most important clauses in the agreement for Gantz, since approval of a state budget is an easy way for someone to topple a government. Currently, if Israel does not pass a budget by August 25, it heads to a new election in November.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is said to want a one-year budget. While he makes economic and fiscal arguments, even members of his party know he is doing this to be able to potentially bring down the government again in March when the 2021 budget will have to be passed.
That March exit point is critical for Netanyahu to be able to avoid having to rotate out of the Prime Minister’s Office in November 2021 and hand over the reins of the country to Gantz.
Here are Netanyahu’s current options:
1) He refuses to abide by the coalition agreement and continues to insist on a one-year budget. If that happens, and Gantz refuses to concede, the Knesset will automatically disperse on August 25. The election – Israel’s fourth in less than two years – will be held sometime in November.
2) To gain some time, Netanyahu passes legislation that postpones the deadline by which the government needs to pass a new budget. According to existing legislation, this needs to happen within 100 days of the formation of a new government.
If a new law was passed extending the deadline, the threat of a new election would not disappear, but it would go away for a little longer, giving Netanyahu and Gantz some more time to work on a compromise. Derech Eretz’s Zvi Hauser has already placed a proposed bill on the Knesset’s table, which Netanyahu could choose to advance.
3) Netanyahu sticks to his demand to pass a one-year budget, and Gantz sticks to his demand to pass a two-year budget. Elections, right? Not for sure.
Netanyahu could theoretically bring down this government, kick out Blue and White and bring in Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party – but he would still be short two seats for the necessary 61. Potential candidates for defection are Hauser and Yoaz Hendel from Derech Eretz, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Omer Yankelevitch from Blue and White, as well as some others.
Hendel and Hauser have already said they will not defect. But when Israel will be just a day or two away from a new election, their decision could potentially change.
4) Blue and White has hinted that it is working on an alternative government without Likud. Currently, Blue and White has 14 seats. With Derech Eretz and Labor they have 19 seats in the Knesset. Yamina is five, Yisrael Beytenu is seven and Yesh Atid-Telem is 17. That would give the anti-Netanyahu block 48. To get to 61, though, Gantz would need to get the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties – which hold 16 seats – to join him. This is highly unlikely, since the possibility that the haredim will join Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid is almost like the chance that Bennett and Liberman would sit with the Arab Joint List.
5) Gantz surrenders and decides to support Netanyahu’s proposal to pass a one-year budget. Gantz has folded on key issues in the past. If this were to happen, it would not be a surprise – but it would be another nail in the coffin for his chance of ever replacing Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.