Israel Politics January 2019

Israel: Snap election called for April as pressure on Netanyahu mounts

On 24 December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a snap election, scheduled to be held on 9 April, amid accumulating political pressure and calls for his resignation over corruption charges. Netanyahu has been under investigation for bribery, fraud and breach of trust since late 2016 and, in late December, the Israeli police recommended his indictment for the third time this year. The final decision now rests in the hands of attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit, who is expected to present an initial charge before the election. Israeli law, however, is unclear as to whether an indicted prime minister can remain in office. Compounding matters for Netanyahu, his government now controls only 61 of the 120 seats in the Knesset after losing support of some junior coalition parties in recent months.

Former army Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz, who only established his own party on 27 December, has emerged as the biggest threat to Netanyahu. However, popularity polls show that he is still trailing the incumbent prime minister by around seven percentage points. On 10 January, Gantz is scheduled to give his first speech where he is likely to outline his agenda and policy aims. Thus far, he has remained mostly silent since registering his Hosen L’Israel (Israel Resilience) party, other than saying that he is hawkish on security issues. Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid opposition party, is considered the dark horse contender.

Meanwhile, the center-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union, dissolved in early January. The Labor party and the Hatnuah party are therefore currently set to contest the election separately: Labor are positioned to win seven to eight seats according to opinion polls, while Hatnuah could risk not even meeting the election threshold of 3.25% of the votes cast. Nonetheless, the leader of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, has not ruled out joining a new Netanyahu-led government post-election. Against this backdrop, the most likely outcome seems to be another right-wing coalition government and a broad continuation of current economic policies.

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