As Israel prepares to head for an unprecedented third round of elections within less than a year in March, Israeli parties are scrambling to ensure as many votes for them as possible. Undoubtedly the most distressed of those parties is Netanyahu’s Likud, with Netanyahu himself frantically searching for a win in order to avoid criminal prosecution over numerous corruption cases following his indictment at the hands of the Attorney General.
In fact, Netanyahu made a formal request of immunity from the Speaker of the Knesset, who himself is a Likud party member. As per Israeli law, members of the Knesset (MKs) do not receive automatic immunity from prosecution, however they can request it. If a request is made, a majority of the Knesset must vote in favor of granting immunity. To this day, there has not been a single incident of immunity being granted to an MK.
In response to Netanyahu’s request, the leader of the far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, announced that his party would vote against the request. It is worth noting that the primary reason behind Israel’s political turmoil over the past year was due to Lieberman’s decision to leave Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, leading to the collapse of the government and fresh elections in April 2019. Even now, Lieberman still refuses to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing his fierce opposition and hatred towards the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties that form the backbone of Netanyahu’s coalition.
Following inconclusive elections in April and September of 2019 that were filled with egregious incitement and racism at the hands of Netanyahu against Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as mounting pressure from the people calling on him to resign, it seems as if Netanyahu’s momentum has run out.
Furthermore, dealing a decisive blow to Netanyahu’s incitement filled campaign against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Joint List – a coalition of Palestinian parties led by the joint Arab-Jewish party Hadash – won an astonishing 13 seats in the Knesset, making it the third largest party in it. Moreover, its renewed power meant that should Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, Netanyahu’s main rival and opposition, form a unity government, the Joint List’s leader, MK Ayman Odeh, would become the speaker of the opposition, giving Palestinian citizens of Israel unprecedented power and influence in the Israeli government.
It is also important to note the fact that despite Gantz campaigning as a “centrist” and a “progressive” voice that will bring change to Israel, his politics differ little to Netanyahu. More importantly, despite his constant preaching of peace and reconciliation, when MK Odeh offered to join a center-left government coalition with Kahol Lavan, Gantz was quick to dismiss his willingness to cooperate with any Palestinians on any matters.
This further proved a prospect that has haunted Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc — the rise of Palestinian citizens of Israel as game changers and a force to be reckoned with in Israeli politics. The September election results demonstrated that Palestinian citizens of Israel are the ones who can and will decide who the next prime minister is, as the Joint List’s decision to recommend Gantz for the formation of the government (with the exception of the Balad faction of the Joint List) – something that Arab parties have only done once before in the 1990s. While the Joint List made it clear that they are not supporting Gantz, it was a very explicit message to the Netanyahu and the world that Palestinian citizens of Israel plan to take an active role in bringing about change and ending Netanyahu’s grip on power and his far-right agenda.
Finally, when no party was able to form a government in September, it became clear that Israel will head to the polls again – something Netanyahu knew would be catastrophic to him and his parties. A third election would mean only one thing, a devastating blow to the Likud and, more importantly, to Netanyahu, as voters have clearly grown tired of his policies and corruption.
In fact, polls released right after the Knesset was dissolved again in September of 2019 showed that Gantz’s Kahol Lavan would gain a whopping 37 seats in the Knesset, an increase of 4 which would give them an incredible 6 seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud. Additionally, the Joint List, arguably the kingmaker of the Israeli elections, was projected to receiving an unimaginable 14-15 seats. Such a feat has never before been accomplished by Palestinian voters, who are clearly energized by Netanyahu’s incitement and racist policies. Even worse, Likud member and former education and interior minister, Gideon Sa’ar, is mounting a serious challenge against Netanyahu’s leadership in the party.
As the world seemed to crumble around him, Netanyahu received a golden gift. Following the assassination of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, at the hands of the United States, Iran vowed revenge. While such revenge will almost certainly not involve direct conformation with the US, it will however most likely involve Iran’s proxies in Iraq, Syria, and most importantly for Netanyahu, in Lebanon and Gaza.
Such escalation of tensions between the US and Iran have provided Netanyahu with the perfect opportunity to use a strategy which has kept in power all those years: the possibility of war. Every time Netanyahu was about to lose an election, he simply launched an offensive into Gaza or the West Bank prior to election day, stoking fears among the Israeli population, and selling himself as the strong-man needed to counter such so-called threats.
Yet, when he employed that tactic in the September elections by promising to annex the West Bank and severely escalating military aggression in the West Bank and Gaza, leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds more injured – it failed. It seems as if the Israeli population was simply sick of his policies and corrupt behavior. However, the threat of Iran and its proxies attacking Israel is a far more effective fear-mongering tactic which he will use to rally the nation around him. Moreover, it is clear that Netanyahu has been attempting to provoke Iran and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria with dozens of Israeli airstrikes being carried out on Syrian and Iranian targets in the region all throughout 2019. Now that his wish has come true, it is looking more and more possible that he will remain in power for yet another term.