Election timing is a smart choice by Netanyahu

By Amnon Lord/JNS

“We’ve had four good years, but all good things must come to an end.” This statement from Habayit Hayehudi Party chief and Education Minister Naftali Bennett may be the most poignant assessment of last week’s decision to hold elections in April.

Set for April 9, the upcoming elections will be held only a few weeks after the date Bennett and a recently resigned Defense Chief and Yisrael Beytenu Party head Avigdor Lieberman had initially aimed for when they called for elections one month ago. Had Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to consolidate the coalition at the time, he would have had a political train wreck on his hands come March.

The timing is odd. Elections have been held twice in March, in 2006 and 2015, and they have been held in late May at least twice. We have also been known to have elections over the summer. But elections in April, two weeks before the Passover holiday? That is a surprise and apparently, one of the effects Netanyahu had hoped to achieve.

All the political advisers initially expected elections to be held in March, but then the rumor started that they would be held in May. More recently, Netanyahu and his fellow Likud Party members managed to give them the sense that, despite everything, elections would be held on their usual date in November.

April 9 is another three-and-a-half months away. This short time frame is particularly problematic for the political novices getting the most media coverage at the moment. Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, former Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, former Defense Minister and Likud MK Moshe Ya’alon will all need to focus their energy on extricating themselves from this political pileup.

Bennett’s statement was tantamount to a declaration that right-wing voters are very satisfied with how this government is functioning under Netanyahu’s leadership and that his political demise is nowhere in sight. Senior political commentators are wrong to claim the investigations into Netanyahu’s alleged corruption are the elephant in the room, as if Netanyahu is running against Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at the ballot box. Mendelblit is just doing his job. And let us keep in mind that to date, nothing about Netanyahu’s actions has caused him to lose the support of his supporters.

If the Israeli public were waiting with bated breath for Netanyahu’s ouster, the legal and political pressure would have been enough to force him out of office a long time ago. The only thing the investigations have forced on Netanyahu is the right-wing coalition in its current compilation. That is because even if he wanted to form a unity government with Yesh Atid Party chief Yair Lapid in the future, he won’t. He knows that Lapid is liable to turn against him at any minute over one legal development or another, and who wants that kind of partner in their government? Israel’s diplomatic achievements under Netanyahu and his ability to govern a problematic coalition are what give him and the Likud in general an advantage as we look ahead to the Passover holiday. 

 Amnon Lord is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper “Makor Rishon.” His articles and essays about media, film and politics have been published in “The Jerusalem Post” and other publications in Israel. His commentary was distributed by JNS (Jewish News Syndicate).