Netanyahu facing political headwinds, makes plea for direct prime ministerial elections

Netanyahu called for direct elections for prime minister and blamed Naftali Bennett of the Yemina party for preventing it.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is feeling the political heat after his bloc lost a crucial vote regarding a key committee on Monday. During a Tuesday press conference to discuss the recent acquisition of Pfizer vaccines, he all but admitted that he would not be able to form a government even with two weeks left in which to try and do so.

Netanyahu continued to pitch a way out of the political gridlock, which has plunged Israel into four elections and now possibly a fifth. His solution: Reintroduce direct elections for prime minister.

It would mean sending Israelis back to the polls in 1-1/2 months for special elections just for prime minister. The winner would receive additional parliamentary power to form a new government.

Israel has held direct elections for the prime minister before – in 1996, 1999 and 2001. It was abandoned, however, when it failed to produce stable governments.

“There is a solution to the political knot. The solution is a direct election for prime minister – to let the public decide who will lead the country,” Netanyahu said.

“There is a huge majority in the country that supports it. It crosses most of the parties in the Knesset. The recent elections proved that the public wants a right-wing government,” he said.

“The Knesset is significantly right-wing with 65 seats, and the only reason why it is not possible to form a right-wing government now is personal and not ideological,” he said, referring to the desire of several party leaders to see Netanyahu ousted despite having few disagreements with him on policy.

Netanyahu said the country faced two options. “Either to form a left-wing government with a right-wing fig leaf – with Meretz, the Joint List and Labor – which is against the will of the electorate and the commitment of [Naftali] Bennett and Gideon Saar.” (Bennett and Saar lead respectively the right-wing parties Yemina and New Hope.)

“The second option is to form a stable right-wing government for four years after a lightning prime ministerial election so that the public can choose who will be the next prime minister. There is no need to dissolve the Knesset and there is no need for a fifth election,” he said.

Netanyahu directed most of his fire at Bennett, whom he blamed for holding up the possibility of direct elections for the premiership.

“If Bennett supports this proposal, there is a majority. There is no reason not to support it. He pledged to the right-wing government and pledged not to go under [Opposition leader Yair Lapid] and the Left,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu blamed Bennett’s “personal ambition to be prime minister” for preventing the direct election proposal to pass. Bennett’s party has recommended their leader as a possibility for the premiership.

“If Bennett really wants a right-wing government, he will announce today that he supports direct elections and we will get out of the mess,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu’s chances to form a government were dealt a significant blow on Monday when the right-wing bloc he leads lost control of the Arrangements Committee. The committee sets the agenda and determines what legislation comes before the Knesset during the transitional period between elections and the formation of a new government.

After the vote, Likud whip Miki Zohar admitted, “We realize that we’re on the way to opposition.”