JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Netanyahu, faced with the unlikelihood of his coalition government passing a new law to end haredi military draft deferment or ratifying the 2013 state budget with its austerity measures that affect nearly every government ministry controlled by coalition partners, will call for new elections on his return to the Knesset next week after sitting shiva for his father.
Senior Likud Party member and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel’s Channel 10 News that Netanyahu indicated he was leaning toward calling for elections in mid-August. However, Rivlin and other coalition members informed the prime minister that August elections would be virtually impossible for three reasons: many Israeli voters will be vacationing abroad, which could work against the larger political factions; the yeshiva world will be engaged in Elul-themed learning and would not wish to deal with secular politics; and the Israeli Arab community will be at the end of the Ramadan religious fasting period.
Likud Knesset members have suggested that holding elections in September before the High Holidays would be the most favorable compromise. Netanyahu wants to hold elections as soon as possible, with recent polls showing Likud’s popularity at a three-year high among Israeli voters.
According to the polls, Likud would trounce the once powerful Kadima Party, making Likud the most powerful political faction in the Knesset and virtually guaranteeing Netanyahu another term in office.
Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni announced her resignation from the Knesset on Tuesday after being beaten in internal party elections by former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz. A poll conducted by the Israeli business daily GLOBES indicated Kadima would lose half its current share of 28 seats in the next elections, which would solidify the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu’s position as the second largest political faction with at least 15 seats.
Avigdor Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader and current foreign minister, has reportedly been guaranteed by Netanyahu that he will once again be the second most powerful coalition member in a new government.
The polls also show that the Labor Party, under new chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, will make a stunning comeback at the expense of Kadima and the waning leftist Meretz Party, with as many as 15 Knesset mandates. Former television talk show host Yair Lapid’s new Future Party could garner at least 10 Knesset seats.
The polls also suggest that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who broke away from Labor to form the Independence political faction, is not expected to receive enough votes to warrant a single Knesset seat.
On Tuesday, Yediot Aharonot reported that Likud Party members were prepared to torpedo any initiative by Netanyahu to “absorb” Barak or other Independence Party Knesset members into a pre-election Likud list. Vice Premier and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon has the support of many Likud members to succeed Barak after the elections.