Netanyahu willing to cancel elections? Rumors, contradictions swirl

Contradictory reports surround news that Netanyahu appears willing to cancel the coming September elections.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

The political storm broke Tuesday night after Speaker of the Knesset and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein made public that he was looking into the possibility of cancelling the September elections. This was followed by a Likud statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would “seriously” consider the proposal.

Although Israel just held elections in April, Netanyahu’s inability to form a governing coalition forced Israel right back to the ballot box. The 21st Knesset became the shortest-serving of any Knesset in the country’s history, voting to disperse itself after little over a month. The Knesset’s top legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said at the time that the process would be irreversible.

That creates a legal sticking point. The Knesset would have to cancel that dispersal in order to cancel the elections.

Edelstein says his legal advisers tell him it is possible.

He tweeted on Tuesday, “I found a parliamentary outline and it is possible to cancel unnecessary elections… It is our duty to allow the 21st Knesset to continue to function.”

Reportedly, a decisive majority of Knesset votes would be required. The number of 80 Knesset members has been floated. That number was reached only once before, in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Elections to the 8th Knesset were delayed by two months.

Unity government?

Edelstein told Israel Hayom he wouldn’t go forward with a process to reverse new elections if it meant the establishment of a government resting on a slim 61-Knesset seat majority. It would be with a large and more stable government in mind. This suggests the end goal would be a unity government in which the Likud party would rule jointly with the Blue and White opposition party. Leadership would be shared on a rotational basis between Netanyahu and Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz.

Given the angry back-and-forth and finger-pointing  following news of elections possibly being cancelled, this seems an unlikely outcome at present.

After rumors emerged that the Likud had reached out to Blue and White to create a rotational government, Blue and White’s Gantz responded on Tuesday, “The reports tonight make it clear – Netanyahu is afraid of the public’s verdict…

“Netanyahu is lying – there are no negotiations with Blue and White. We’re talking about more spin to make the public forget that Netanyahu failed to form a government… Netanyahu understands he’s going to lose the election and is now looking for a magic solution.”

Yair Lapid, co-leader of Blue and White, tweeted on Tuesday, referring to Netanyahu, “There’s no problem in going to a unity government. One person, just one, has to step aside. To go and handle his indictments. The Likud can replace him with whoever it wants.”

However, the Likud denies that it ever reached out to Blue and White. The Likud issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had never  offered a power-sharing arrangement with Gantz. “The prime minister didn’t suggest to Benny Gantz a rotation and didn’t initiate contact with him.”

Nevertheless, Likud MK Mickey Zohar said on Wednesday that while the Likud didn’t propose a unity government to Blue and White, “everything is open” to prevent elections.

Right-Left split

The debate over whether to cancel elections appears to have split along political lines. The right-wing parties are in favor of cancellation.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, leader of the center-right Kulanu party, which recently merged with Likud, said “The coming elections are excessive, expensive, and harmful to the markets. Any initiative that will lead to their cancellation is welcome.”

Rafi Peretz, who was recently sworn in as education minister and heads the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, said,  “Cancelling the elections means cancelling cuts to the education budget. I welcome and support an initiative that would save billions of shekels and help stabilize the government in the State of Israel.”

On the other side of the divide stand the opposition parties. They quickly expressed their disapproval of the idea.

Labor party chairman Itzik Shmueli said, “Cancelling elections is legally impossible and not moral and therefore won’t pass. As chairman of the Labor faction I announce my intention to oppose any process of this kind, whose purpose is the personal survival of Netanyahu.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is considering re-entering politics, also attacked the proposal, tweeting that anyone who supported reversing the election would become a partner in Netanyahu’s corruption.

Avigdor Liberman of the Israel Beiteinu party, whose refusal to join the government is what led to new elections being called, said, “The only thing that guides Netanyahu is polls, and it is clear that the findings presented to him… reflect the desire of the citizens of Israel to form a broad national government…  the only conclusion is that this is an attempt to hold power at all costs.”

Naftali Bennett, whose New Right party narrowly missed entering the Knesset, came out in favor of canceling elections even though it wasn’t in his personal interest. He posted to Facebook on Tuesday, “On a personal level, these repeat elections fell on me from the sky like winning the lottery, but they are bad for the State of Israel.”

He called for the Gantz and Netanyahu “to agree to a normal government and cancel these stupid elections.”