Netanyahu knows next elections are his last chance, isn’t yet ready to go to polls

Opposition leader hasn’t yet decided whether to try to dissolve Knesset next week; seeks to build satellite party with Chikli, Likud members

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on June 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on June 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nobody in the Likud party knows yet if the opposition will bring a bill to dissolve the Knesset to the floor next Wednesday — a move that could bring the country closer to another round of elections.

Assessments are changing daily as to whether the vote will be held, and the final decision lies in the hands of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud faction chair Yariv Levin.

The general assessment in Likud is that Netanyahu does not want elections now, despite his many statements to the contrary at faction meetings and on camera. The former prime minister understands that if he is unable to form a government after the next round of elections — as he was after the previous few rounds — he will lose the backing of his party.

“Netanyahu knows that the next election is his last chance. If he doesn’t succeed in forming a government next time, no one in Likud will agree to go with him for another round after everything we have been through,” a source close to Netanyahu said Tuesday.

“Netanyahu had hoped to form a government within the current Knesset. It was ideal for him. But he quickly realized that it wasn’t possible with [Justice Minister] Gideon Sa’ar or anyone else in the [current] coalition,” the source said.

The source noted that the opposition leader’s ongoing corruption trial would play a key role in the opposition leader’s considerations.

MK Idit Silman and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on June 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Netanyahu is constantly thinking of his legacy, about his place in history, and about the trial,” the source said.

“He must attain the premiership during his trial to better control events in the country and improve his status, even if there does end up being a plea deal. He cannot strike out this time,” the source said.

He said Netanyahu was looking into the possibility of forming a so-called satellite party that could draw in voters who are hesitant to vote for Likud, but that will eventually join him when the time comes to form a coalition after an election — thus enabling him to secure the 61-seat majority he needs.

“I know he is conducting polls and trying to build a [party] slate of Amichai Chikli along with prominent and attractive members of the Likud faction… It takes time,” the source said.

Chikli, a freshman MK who was elected to the current Knesset on Yamina’s slate, rebelled against his party immediately after the 2021 election, voting against the formation of the current government last July and repeatedly voting against it since. He was finally kicked out of the party in April. His designation as a defector has political ramifications, including preventing him from running in the next national ballot with any faction already in the Knesset. Chikli has filed an appeal on the matter.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party’s request to declare him a ‘defector,’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Netanyahu’s machinations still taking shape, his interests and those of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are, oddly enough, currently aligned, with neither wanting the immediate dispersal of the Knesset and quick elections.

Even if Likud does decide to go for a vote on Knesset dissolution, there is no guarantee that the opposition would be able to muster the necessary majority to pass the bill. If it brings the motion to the plenum and fails, it cannot do so again for the next six months.

And it remains unclear how Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who quit the coalition on Monday, would vote on such a bill. Some figures in the religious-Zionist community believe he has been making his recent moves in coordination with Bennett, who remains a good friend.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach seen leaving the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, June 12, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Should the dissolution bill pass in a preliminary vote, it would then move to committee for preparation before being sent back to the Knesset for its three readings. If it passes its third reading, the Knesset would dissolve and new elections would be scheduled.

It’s also unclear if Orbach and the opposition’s Arab-dominated Joint List party (which is not part of the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc) would support the dissolution in those three additional readings now — in the current summer session of parliament — or possibly only in the Knesset’s winter session, starting in late October.

One additional factor: If Orbach is the lawmaker whose vote brings down the government, he would be handing the premiership to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. According to the coalition agreement, if the decisive vote in downing the government comes from either Bennett’s Yamina or Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Lapid would serve as caretaker prime minister until the next government is formed. By contrast, Bennett is allowed to stay on as premier if the deciding vote comes from a member of the Lapid-led bloc of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Meretz and Ra’am.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2022. (Maya Alleruzzo / POOL / AFP)

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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