Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 June 2020

Fresh election shakes up Israel's political landscape

Netanyahu sacks two ministers as politicians and parties jockey for new partners and positions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked Naftali Bennett, left, and Ayelet Shaked from his cabinet on June 2, 2019. EPA
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked Naftali Bennett, left, and Ayelet Shaked from his cabinet on June 2, 2019. EPA

Israeli politics is in the midst of several shake-ups days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a ruling a coalition and parliament voted to dissolve itself and return to elections – a situation US President Donald Trump described as "messed up".

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu dismissed two of his biggest opponents from their cabinet posts – Naftali Bennett, the education minister, and Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister – ostensibly because they were no longer parliamentary members. Mr Netanyahu can now curry favour by offering the vacant positions to his supporters.

Israel faces another election less than two months after the re-election of Mr Netanyahu, a key Trump ally, because a dispute over a law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews led to a clash of ideologies and personalities on the right. The repeat of elections this September is "ridiculous", MrTrump told reporters while discussing the prospects of his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

“In the meantime, Israel’s all messed up with their election,” he said. “Bibi [Mr Netanyahu's nickname] got elected, now all of the sudden they’re going to have to go through the process again, until September? That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.”

Mr Netanyahu having neither a stable government nor an assured position in the future complicates the Trump administration's timeline for unveiling parts of the plan, including an economy-focused conference in Bahrain this month that is intended to jump-start investment in the Palestinian Territories. The Palestinian leadership is boycotting the event for not addressing Palestinian political demands alongside economic development.

The return to elections is even more problematic for Mr Netanyahu, who faces indictment in several corruption cases. The prime minister had reportedly hoped to push through some form of immunity from prosecution while in office, either in a new law or changes to the Supreme Court. Not having a long-term government complicates his political survival strategy as well because he is now more vulnerable from all sides.

The return to elections, however, has been a lifeline for Mr Bennet and Ms Shaked, whose new off-shoot party, The New Right, did not make it past the electoral threshold in the April election. Mr Bennett has said he will run as head of The New Right in September. Ms Shaked, on the other hand, said she would announce her plans in coming days.

Israel politics watchers had speculated that Ms Shaked might return to Mr Netanyahu's Likud party. According to Israeli media, however, Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife, has refused to let Ms Shaked back into Likud. The Netanyahus and Ms Shaked have a long-standing feud.

Israel's other parties and politicians are also manoeuvring to improve their electoral prospects. Former head of the centre-left Labour Party, Amir Peretz, announced on Sunday that he would challenge party leader Avi Gabbay after Labour failed to do well in the April vote.

The four Arab-majority parties are also in talks about re-creating the Joint Arab List.

Meanwhile, Bezalel Smotrich, a religious parliamentary member in the extreme-right Union of Right-Wing Parties, staked a claim for Ms Shaked's former post on Monday, saying Israel needed to be governed according to Jewish law.

Mr Netanyahu said it would take him time to announce appointments to the newly vacant ministries.

Updated: June 3, 2019 06:52 PM

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