Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Prepare to Give Their Verdict on Netanyahu

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. Netanyahu sacked his finance and justice ministers on Tuesday, signaling the breakup of his bickering coalition and opening the way for early national elections in Israel. Gali Tibbon/Pool/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told the Israeli people he cannot lead the country with the composition of the current government and therefore needs elections to form a new government.

During the course of his press conference Tuesday (which was widely panned by Israeli political commentators), Netanyahu claimed that his current government was a failure. He blamed the ministers in his government for that failure, asserting that they were constantly undermining him. Netanyahu contended that the current government had been forced on him and waxed wistfully about his previous administration, which included ultra-Orthodox members.

A little over an hour before the press conference, Netanyahu fired both his finance minister, Yair Lapid, and his justice minister, Tzipi Livni, asserting that "he cannot tolerate the presence of cabinet members who attack government policies." Livni responded to the dismissal by saying that Netanyahu did not have the honesty and courage to fire her in person when they met earlier in the day. Lapid's reactions were in the same vein.

These firings pave the way for Netanyahu to directly control two of the most important ministries in the coming months, during a period of an interim government. As part of the election process, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) will vote to disband itself in the coming days.

During this interim period, the government cannot pass any laws. Furthermore, its actions are limited by law. It is expected that the upcoming elections will be held in March. If the past is any guide, it will take at least another two months to form a new government. Until then, Israel will not have a fully functioning government.

The Israeli people have reacted in disgust to the events of the past few days. While few citizens were enamored with the current government, even fewer had any interest in new elections—just two years after the last elections were held. Fifty-one percent of Israelis believe that having elections now is bad for Israel. Only 20 percent think that having elections now is a good idea.

The expectation is that unless something dramatic happens, the next government will be as unstable as this last one, with one possible change: It will likely include the ultra-Orthodox parties. By all accounts, Netanyahu has reached an understanding with the ultra-Orthodox parties to form a coalition after the election.

The Israeli electoral system is made up of representatives of different parties, either elected through primaries or, in an increasingly larger number of cases, appointed by heads of the party (or by rabbis). These lists compete in nationwide elections, and seats are allocated based on the number of votes received.

One of the few pieces of legislation successfully passed during the current government was a law that increased the threshold of votes required to receive seats in the next election. This will force the Arab lists of candidates to unite. Expectations are that some of the parties in the center-left, such as the Labor party led by Yitzhak "Bu'ji" Herzog and Hat'nua, led by Livni, will unite. It is possible that Lapid's Yesh Atid party will find a way to join them.

The polls now show the Likud party leading in the next election, garnering 22 seats; Habayit Hayehudi, led by Naftali Bennett, receiving 17 seats; and Labor gaining 13 seats. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party is currently slated to win 12 seats, and a new party led by Moshe Kachlon (who left the Likud) is thought likely to obtain 12 sets.

Predictions show the Yesh Atid party dropping to nine seats (from 19) and the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party Yahadut Hatorah getting eight seats, while Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party, and the left-wing party Meretz each winning seven seats. According to the polls, the Arab party Ram Tal will get five seats, and the Arab party Chadash will get four seats. Bringing up the rear is Livni's party, also projected to receive four seats.

Of course, the figures above are no more than the product of a snap poll. One thing is clear: The people of Israel are tired. They are profoundly tired of the current situation and tired of having Netanyahu as prime minister.

Despite this, it seems unlikely that change is likely to result from the election, which may deliver a government even more right-wing than the present one. But, as one commentator remarked today, "elections are like war...easy to start, but you never know how it will end."