Israel's Netanyahu Weighs Move to Cancel September Elections

Yaacov Benmeleh
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will weigh a motion to cancel national elections in September, a gambit that would give him time to focus on his legal defense in several looming corruption cases.The speaker of Israel’s parliament is examining the legality of nixing the vote if Netanyahu can form a government with two-thirds of the country’s 120 elected parliamentarians, Jonathan Orich, a spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said Tuesday night.“The speaker of the Knesset asked that we meet in coming days, and I’ll do that,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.The Israeli leader appeared to emerge victorious from April elections but was unable to form a majority government by the late-May deadline. Instead, parliament dissolved itself just weeks after being sworn in, and fresh elections were set for Sept. 17.Netanyahu’s failure to form a government came after he pushed potential coalition partners to support measures granting parliamentarians legal immunity. Israel’s attorney general plans to indict Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases, pending a hearing set for October. Even if Netanyahu won the September election he’d be hard-pressed to establish a government before his hearing, leaving him vulnerable.Unity push?The fact that 80 Knesset members would be needed for the move to advance suggests Netanyahu is negotiating a tie-up with the centrist Blue & White opposition bloc, which won 35 seats in April’s election, equal to Likud. In his statement Wednesday, Netanyahu denied reports that he had reached out to Blue & White or had proposed rotating the premiership with the bloc’s leader, Benny Gantz.With Netanyahu, “anything is possible. The man has no shame when it comes to doing things for his own personal benefit and survival,” said Mitchell Barak, head of Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications in Jerusalem. “It’s not in his best interest to go to elections because he might lose.”A move to cancel elections would be unprecedented in Israel, and it’s not clear if it’s even legally possible. Even if the move fails, it could allow Netanyahu to portray himself as a responsible leader trying to save the country an expensive and unnecessary revote.Blue & White, led by three former military chiefs of staff and a former finance minister, says Netanyahu’s legal predicament disqualifies him from running the country, and has refused to join a government with Likud as long as Netanyahu leads the party.“Netanyahu is afraid of public justice, and he’s lying,” Gantz said. “There are no negotiations with Blue & White.”(Adds Netanyahu comment in third paragraph, details throughout.)To contact the reporter on this story: Yaacov Benmeleh in Tel Aviv at ybenmeleh@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson, Michael S. ArnoldFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will weigh a motion to cancel national elections in September, a gambit that would give him time to focus on his legal defense in several looming corruption cases.

The speaker of Israel’s parliament is examining the legality of nixing the vote if Netanyahu can form a government with two-thirds of the country’s 120 elected parliamentarians, Jonathan Orich, a spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said Tuesday night.

“The speaker of the Knesset asked that we meet in coming days, and I’ll do that,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.

The Israeli leader appeared to emerge victorious from April elections but was unable to form a majority government by the late-May deadline. Instead, parliament dissolved itself just weeks after being sworn in, and fresh elections were set for Sept. 17.

Netanyahu’s failure to form a government came after he pushed potential coalition partners to support measures granting parliamentarians legal immunity. Israel’s attorney general plans to indict Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases, pending a hearing set for October. Even if Netanyahu won the September election he’d be hard-pressed to establish a government before his hearing, leaving him vulnerable.

Unity push?

The fact that 80 Knesset members would be needed for the move to advance suggests Netanyahu is negotiating a tie-up with the centrist Blue & White opposition bloc, which won 35 seats in April’s election, equal to Likud. In his statement Wednesday, Netanyahu denied reports that he had reached out to Blue & White or had proposed rotating the premiership with the bloc’s leader, Benny Gantz.

With Netanyahu, “anything is possible. The man has no shame when it comes to doing things for his own personal benefit and survival,” said Mitchell Barak, head of Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications in Jerusalem. “It’s not in his best interest to go to elections because he might lose.”

A move to cancel elections would be unprecedented in Israel, and it’s not clear if it’s even legally possible. Even if the move fails, it could allow Netanyahu to portray himself as a responsible leader trying to save the country an expensive and unnecessary revote.

Blue & White, led by three former military chiefs of staff and a former finance minister, says Netanyahu’s legal predicament disqualifies him from running the country, and has refused to join a government with Likud as long as Netanyahu leads the party.

“Netanyahu is afraid of public justice, and he’s lying,” Gantz said. “There are no negotiations with Blue & White.”

(Adds Netanyahu comment in third paragraph, details throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Yaacov Benmeleh in Tel Aviv at ybenmeleh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson, Michael S. Arnold

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.