Editorial

Netanyahu’s gamble: on Israel holding early election

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As Israel heads for a snap poll, corruption allegations will cast a shadow on his campaign

Israel’s ruling coalition’s decision to dissolve Parliament and hold an early election was no surprise. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose term was scheduled to end next November, has been battling intra-coalition troubles for weeks now. Last month, Avigdor Lieberman, the hawkish Defence Minister, quit and pulled his Yisrael Beiteinu party from the coalition in protest against Mr. Netanyahu’s truce with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the Gaza Strip. That left Mr. Netanyahu with a majority of one seat in the 120-member Knesset. Since then, another crisis convulsed the coalition as a proposed law to regulate the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men in the military drew flak from religious parties. So far, while all Jewish Israelis are required to serve in the military at age 18, religious students have traditionally got an exemption. The new conscription Bill seeks increased participation of Orthodox Jews. It is required to be passed by January 15, a court-imposed deadline. But the government’s ability to muster the numbers for its passage came under serious doubt as both the Opposition parties and the Orthodox Jewish parties within the ruling coalition have taken a stand against it. It is against this background that Mr. Netanyahu opted to force an election, which will be held on April 9.

In the dissolved Knesset, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-conservative Likud party had 30 members. The electoral system is based on proportional representation, and the Likud is expected to do well again as there appears to be no opposition figure with a profile to take on Mr. Netanyahu. But the four-time Prime Minister has a mixed track record. While he listed the “great achievements” of his government in areas such as security, economy, transportation, tourism and infrastructure at a Likud meeting, he faces criticism for his handling of the Palestinian issue and the security challenges from war-torn Syria. The Netanyahu government completely spurned peace initiatives, promoted settlements in the West Bank and used heavy force against protesters in both the West Bank and Gaza. The two-state solution, which Mr. Netanyahu derided during the election campaign in 2015, is in peril. In Syria, Israel has carried out a series of attacks against what it calls the Iranian presence, deepening the country’s involvement there. Besides, Mr. Netanyahu faces allegations of corruption — he is accused of accepting gifts from billionaire benefactors and reaching illicit deals with media moguls. The Israeli police has recommended indicting the Prime Minister in three cases. If the Attorney-General decides to file a case against him, it could change his electoral chances. Whether Mr. Netanyahu returns to power or not, a fresh mandate should nudge the incumbent towards bold steps to initiate peace with the Palestinians and other powers in Israel’s neighbourhood.

 

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:45:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/netanyahus-gamble/article25854171.ece

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