Is Israel Headed for a Fourth Election? Likud Sets Down Red Lines

An empty avenue outside the Knesset, during the partial lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

After the High Court discussed on Sunday and Monday the legality of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continuing to serve as prime minister while under indictment and the coalition deal between the Likud and Blue and White parties for a unity government, a senior Likud official laid down some red lines on Tuesday that if crossed, would annul the coalition agreement and lead to an unprecedented fourth election. The 14-day mandate to form the new government expires Thursday.

Taking to Yisrael Hayom, the official said that the first such red line would be if the court ruled that Netanyahu could not serve as prime minister.

The second step would be if the rightwing bloc was prevented from forming a blocking opposition on the Judges Selection Committee. Likud officials are saying that Netanyahu will not budge on this because of his commitment to the rightwing bloc and its voters. Moreover, the Likud notes that appointments to the High Court have nothing to do with Netanyahu’s trial, since it is the chief justice who determines which justices will sit on which panels, and it is likely that Chief Justice Esther Hayut would appoint experienced judges to any panel pertaining to Netanyahu’s cases, not newly appointed judges.

The third step that would lead to new elections is if the framework proposal for the rotation deal for prime minister is invalidated. Eighteen months after the government is to be sworn in, Netanyahu is to step aside so that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz can serve as prime minister for the next year and a half. If the High Court decides that this rotation deal is illegal, Netanyahu would find himself without any government position, being that an MK under indictment cannot serve as minister. In that case, he would prefer to hold new elections.

Another issue that may not trigger a new election, but would cause the Likud and Blue and White some headaches, would be if they were forced to renegotiate the three-year split leadership deal. According to the current coalition agreement, the unity government will dissolve itself three years after the date on which it is sworn in, and a Knesset election will be held.

There is concern that the High Court will rule that the incoming government cannot change the term of an elected Knesset, which the law sets at four years. Theoretically, the matter could be solved through a deal that stated that each side of a unity government would be in power for two years,  thus reaching the four-year term, but Gantz is insisting on stepping in as prime minister after a year and a half.

Meanwhile, the Knesset plenum is due on Wednesday afternoon to start voting to approve the Rotation Bill in its second and third readings. Voting is scheduled to continue through Thursday afternoon.

After this law is passed, 61 MKs will then have to sign a request for President Reuven Rivlin to ask Netanyahu to form a government. The signed letter must be delivered to the President’s Residence by midnight on Thursday. If, for any reason, the coveted 61 MK signatures are not secured, the Knesset will dissolve itself and a fourth election will be held.