Why you should care
Because Israeli politics have never been quite so chaotic.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? In a late-night session yesterday, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted to hold an unprecedented second election within a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure the support of a former ally, ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, for his right-wing coalition ahead of a constitutional deadline. By dissolving the Knesset, Netanyahu prevented President Reuven Rivlin from offering a chance to the opposition, led by the Blue and White Party, to form a government instead. But the move also plunges Israel into chaotic, uncharted territory at a time when the U.S. is hoping to take a fresh stab at a Middle East peace deal. The elections — Israel’s first-ever as a result of a prime minister’s failure to form a government — are now scheduled for Sept. 17, and Netanyahu will hold the post until then.
Why does it matter? The failure to stitch together a workable coalition represents a setback for Netanyahu, whose Likud Party had won 35 seats in April elections to the Knesset. The Blue and White Party, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, also secured 35 seats. But gains by other right-wing parties that have traditionally teamed up with Likud led to expectations that Netanyahu would be able to muster a coalition of 61 parliamentarians needed to form the government in a 120-member Knesset. Now, Israel’s political chaos could undercut — or worse, leave stillborn — a much-vaunted peace plan for the region crafted by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. The collapse of the government also exposes Netanyahu to fresh scrutiny over corruption charges.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Plans on hold? On Sunday, the Trump administration declared that it would detail a new plan to kick-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a conference in Bahrain next month. It disclosed that the plan would include billions of dollars’ worth of economic and developmental aid to the Palestinian territories, where per capita income is less than a tenth of Israel’s $40,000. But while a Netanyahu comfortably ensconced in power could have demonstrated political flexibility for potential peace talks, a fresh election campaign is expected to push him toward more extreme positions. He threatened, for example, to annex occupied parts of the Palestinian territories while campaigning in the run-up to April’s elections. That would make any negotiation a nonstarter. The new government in Israel is unlikely to take shape before October, when Trump would be in full-fledged campaign mode for his own reelection in 2020, with less authority to commit to a peace deal that the next U.S. administration might need to see through.
Corruption clouds grow darker. As if unprecedented political turmoil isn’t enough, Netanyahu also faces another battle that could define his legacy: potential indictment on an array of corruption charges. Alleged to have taken gifts from tycoons and doled out patronage in exchange for favorable press coverage, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and blamed the accusations on a “witch hunt.” Still, upon the recommendation of Israel’s attorney general, he’ll face a pre-indictment hearing in mid-October — meaning the prospect of criminal charges will be looming over his campaign for a second time in the span of six months. The absence of a ruling majority in the Knesset until then also means Netanyahu will likely be unable to push through a proposed law critics say is aimed at shielding him from prosecution before the hearing — even if he returns to power in September. The effort has sparked discontent among liberal-minded Israelis, thousands of whom staged a protest in Tel Aviv last weekend against any immunity law.
Religion vs. power. The coalition talks collapsed after Lieberman insisted that the government accept a law he has proposed that would make military conscription mandatory for ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews. Likud had suggested tweaks to Lieberman’s bill and a road map toward mandatory conscription after the formation of the government. Netanyahu, known for his political survival instincts — he’ll be Israel’s longest-serving PM by September — is expected to use Lieberman’s intransigence to portray himself as a defender of conservative voters. The opposition will point to his willingness to plunge Israel into fresh elections — instead of allowing an alternative government to form — as evidence of political greed. Whichever narrative voters buy could determine whether 69-year-old Netanyahu’s political career gets yet another lease on life, or ends in ignominy.
WHAT TO READ
Netanyahu Just Suffered One of the Biggest Losses of His Political Career, by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz
“We saw an ashen-faced Bibi, ranting about the injustice done to him and the nation by Avigdor Lieberman. It was the Netanyahu we never see in public and only hear about in whispers. Unprepared and unscripted.”
How New Elections Could Affect the Peace Plan, by Omri Nahmias in The Jerusalem Post
“[W]e find ourselves today in an awkward situation: the time and place for rolling out the economic plan has been carefully chosen and set, and yet it might still occur during an election in Israel, after all.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Netanyahu Calls Lieberman a Leftist Following Decision to Dissolve the Knesset
“We will run a sharp and clear campaign, and we will win.”
Watch on Haaretz on YouTube:
Jared Kushner on His “Peace Plan” for Israel and Palestine
“There hasn’t been any breakthroughs in a long time, and the reality is that the situation is getting more and more untenable.”
Watch on the Middle East Eye on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Watch your words. With his father embroiled in one of the trickiest political situations of his career, Yair Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to let slip an uncomfortable truth: He tweeted that his dad agreed to a 2009 request by Lieberman to appoint an attorney general to exonerate the future defense minister, who was facing corruption allegations at the time. Three years after Yehuda Weinstein’s 2010 appointment, Lieberman was cleared of all charges. Weinstein called the younger Netanyahu’s claim “nonsense.”