Tel Aviv Diary: Top Level Spat Triggers Election Fever

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem December 1, 2014. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Tel Aviv—On Monday night, early elections in Israel became all but inevitable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Finance Minister Yair Lapid more than two hours in what was described as a last-minute attempt to hold the coalition government together. It was the first time the two men had talked in two months.

The meeting did not go well, with Netanyahu making demands on Lapid (including his dropping his signature housing plan to eliminate the valued added tax on new apartments,) that he knew Lapid could not meet. Now there seems to be no choice but to call early elections.

For the past two months, the Israeli government has been heavily divided and practically non-functional. Ministers seem unable to agree on anything and the coalition has been so divided that it has been unable to pass any major legislation.

A few weeks ago, Netanyahu became convinced that members of the coalition were plotting to form an alternative government in which he would no longer be the prime minister. Evidence of this was limited, but the prime minister (who is naturally suspicious) decided to believe it. As a result, over the past two weeks he has been acting more and more as if early elections were inevitable.

It is clear Netanyahu has decided, despite his recent low poll numbers, that an election now is advantageous to him and his party. Over the past two weeks he has been working to ensure that he has the support of the ultra-orthodox parties after the upcoming elections, thus making it most likely that he will be the prime minister–once again–after the elections.

However, in politics, especially Israeli politics, which by its nature is very volatile, nothing is certain. Its not clear when the elections will be held.