Israeli elections far from certain despite tough week for Netanyahu

Although many Israelis believe the Prime Minister's future is doomed, opponents are still struggling to oust him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the most right-wing government in Israel's history. AP
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under renewed pressure this week after key political partners expressed willingness to collapse the government.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz and observer Gadi Eisenkot both repeated criticism of Mr Netanyahu for failing to deal with Israel’s mounting strategic challenges as the Gaza War approaches its ninth month.

Mr Gantz’s National Unity Party submitted a bill on Thursday to dissolve parliament in a move that could pave the way for elections. It is the latest sign of intense friction between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, a high-profile politician with significant military experience and public support.

National Unity Party politician Pnina Tamano-Shata, who introduced the bill, said Israel requires “a broad, stable unity government that can safely lead in the face of the tremendous challenges”.

The move came less than a fortnight after Mr Gantz set June 8 as a deadline after which his party would leave the coalition if Mr Netanyahu did not commit to an agreed-on post-war plan for Gaza.

Mr Eisenkot, who like Mr Gantz joined the unity government after October 7, called on Wednesday for elections to take place between September and December, saying “it is clear that this government must be replaced, as soon as possible”.

Despite the fraught week for the Prime Minister, doubts still remain that opponents can bring the government down soon.

Mr Netanyahu's coalition would still have 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset if National Unity left, a majority that is considered strong in Israeli politics.

Mr Gantz is also unlikely to bring the dissolution bill to vote until he can guarantee a majority, because the Israeli political system dictates that rejected legislation can only be voted on again once six months has elapsed.

Mr Gantz's ability to defeat Mr Netanyahu has also been questioned.

Polling since October 7 consistently suggested that Mr Gantz is the most popular challenger to Mr Netanyahu and would win in an election. Pundits have said that Mr Gantz could lead a centrist block to beat the right-wing and far-right parties that make up the current government.

But Israel’s opposition faced troubling statistics on Wednesday after a poll put Mr Netanyahu ahead of Mr Gantz as the country’s preferred prime minister for the first time since October 7.

Israeli pollster Dahlia Scheindlin told The National that while it is important to wait for more data, the results are “not a total surprise”.

In all polls since around March, Mr Netanyahu has seen a “slow, incremental but steady recovery”, she said.

“In the early days after October 7, the world divided between people who thought Netanyahu was finished and those who thought that October 7 wouldn’t change things as much as many thought,” she added.

“I was in the latter camp because I know how war pushes Israelis to the right historically … so we spoke of Gantz's big poll lead as people ‘parking’ temporarily at first, and now people are drifting back.”

Updated: May 31, 2024, 4:27 PM