Zionist Camp to PM: Don’t Count on Us for Early Elections

Avi Gabbay, head of Zionist Camp (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

With the apparent impending desertion of Yisrael Beytenu of Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, the question of early elections is now on the table – but Zionist Camp MKs Shelly Yechimovich and Yoel Chasson have a message for the Prime Minister: Don’t count on their party’s 24 votes for the advancement of the elections.

“We suggest that Netanyahu not build his hopes for early elections on our votes,” Yechimovich wrote in a social media post. “We do not work for the criminal suspect from the Likud, and neither do we work for (Jewish Home head Naftali) Bennett or (Kulanu leader Moshe) Kahlon. We need elections, but we need the date to be one that will be good for the country, not good for the criminal suspect.”

Yechimovich was referring to the fact that polls show that Netanyahu continues to remain popular among Israelis. Recent polls have shown that if elections were held now, the Likud could count on anywhere from 26 to 34 Knesset seats – and easily form a new right-wing government. Those same polls show that Zionist Camp’s electoral strength would be significantly sapped – with the party gaining no more than 14 or 15 seats at best, and as few as 10 seats, in new elections.

On Monday, Zionist Camp chairperson Avi Gabay said in several media interviews that Zionist Camp would happily vote to advance elections from their current November 2019 date. “This is one time we will happily vote with the government,” Gabay told Reshet Bet. “Israel needs elections right away. The public should be aware that there is only one reason elections are being held now – not because of the Draft Bill and not because of the peace process, but because of the investigations against the Prime Minister.”

On Monday, the Ministerial Law Committee approved the amended Draft Bill, after it was approved Sunday night by Gedolei Yisrael and submitted to the committee. On Sunday, Yisrael Beytenu MKs, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and party chairperson MK Robert Elituv said in media interviews that the party would leave the government if and when the Draft Bill is approved on its second and third reading. While there is some time for that process to take place – the High Court’s deadline for the passage of a new draft bill comes up only in September – Netanyahu has said that he is not prepared to head a government without the participation of Yisrael Beytenu, as their resignation would leave his coalition with just 61 members.

As Prime Minister, Netanyahu can call early elections by informing the President that he wishes to do so. According to Israeli law, Netanyahu can call elections within 90 days – but that is preceded by a period of 21 days to allow MKs to vote to form a new government, with a new Prime Minister. The alternative is to get Knesset members to vote to disperse the plenum, a move that would automatically trigger new elections. While it is likely that Likud MKs would agree to do so – as would, of course, Yisrael Beytenu MKs – how other parties, such as Kulanu, would vote is not clear, as polls show that they would lose ground in new elections. Without Zionist Camp’s 24 votes, it is not clear that Netanyahu would have the votes to disperse the Knesset.