Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has missed the bus. The midnight deadline that was given him to form a new coalition government after a bout of political uncertainty has expired. He had initiated the essay to forge a coalition nearly a month back after the fourth inconclusive general election in two years, but the deadline ended at midnight on Wednesday (22:00 GMT).
The fizzle deepens the chronic instability in Israel and intensifies the ferment in the fractious Middle East in the larger canvas. It now devolves on President Reuven Rivlin to decide on whether he will ask some other political leader to forge a coalition; yet the likelihood of the country going to the polls again cannot be readily ruled out.
That eventuality would mean the fifth general election in two years. This would be a blow for Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader; but after the inconclusive result of the last general election in March, it is an outcome that was widely predicted. It is possible that President Rivlin could now give another member of parliament 28 days ~ the same timespan that was allotted to Mr Netanyahu ~ to try to put in place a new government.
It could be Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party came second to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in the last vote. He will face a challenge to bridge wide ideological differences between the parties he could ask to join a coalition. If a nominee called upon by the President is unable to put together a government, constitutional certitudes in Israel suggest that the Head of State can ask Parliament to select a candidate.
If it cannot, Israel will hold another election. The country’s political uncertainty has few parallels in the region, and arguably within the comity of nations. More accurately, a prolonged stalemate in Israel has been deepened by Netanyahu’s ongoing trial for corruption, a charge that he has denied. His rivals have argued that he should not remain in office while facing criminal charges.
Could this be the primary reason why his efforts to form a coalition were reduced to a fizzle? Which party will concur with an allegedly corrupt Likud party leader to lead the coalition, in itself an improbable quantity? There is little doubt that the Prime Minister of Israel is facing a crisis on two fronts ~ the corruption case and now his failure to forge a coalition.
The timing is anything but propitious, but circumstances have traditionally influenced the political narrative in Jerusalem and Palestine. Mr Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving leader, having led five governments since 1996. The last, which saw him share power with the then main opposition party to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic, collapsed in December, leading to the elections in March.