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Netanyahu’s new survival strategy: hold an election

Israel's long-serving PM may have one more trick up his sleeve. Credit: Getty

June 4, 2024 - 4:40pm

The latest proposal for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas looks as though it might succeed where the others have failed.

Although there have been several false dawns over the past few months, the noises coming from the Israeli and US governments indicate that this time a ceasefire and a further return of hostages might be realised.

One thing that has changed is the attitude of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Joe Biden now publicly stating that Bibi is “ready to do almost anything” to return the hostages.

Inside Israel, conservative politicians and commentators have also been talking up the latest plan, indicating that friendly outriders are preparing the ground for Bibi to announce a ceasefire.

The support of conservative allies of Netanyahu, such as Right-wing party Likud MK, Culture Minister Miri Regev and ultra-Orthodox leader and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, is noteworthy. That is because positions around a ceasefire deal have (until recently) mapped onto political divides: supporting the return of the hostages has become coded as a Left-wing issue, with hostages’ families being verbally and physically attacked by Likud activists.

Yet now some government ministers are supporting the current ceasefire plan, even as others — most prominently Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir — swear that they will leave the coalition and bring down the government if Bibi accepts a ceasefire.

A rumour doing the rounds in Israel is that accepting a ceasefire is Netanyahu’s latest ploy to stay in power. Given the pressure from the Americans and Israel’s centrist politicians on one side and from Smotrich and Ben Gvir on the other, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the hostages will not be returned nor Hamas destroyed by military action alone. It seems that Bibi has finally accepted that his government is running out of road.

However, he has not dominated Israeli politics for the past quarter century for nothing: the last time Israelis went to the polls in 2022, it was the last of five elections in just three years. Between 2019 and 2022, successive elections and protracted negotiations were unable to produce a stable and permanent government, and Bibi seems to be banking on the same result today.

Even though the Likud would lose many seats, there is a good chance that no other politician would be able to form a coalition and take power. Meanwhile, he could remain in office until a viable alternative government was formed, and given the prolonged horse-trading which could follow the election, this could extend his grip on power for a while yet.

So it is possible that his apparent willingness to accept a ceasefire is a calculated gamble: go for a deal, risk his coalition collapsing, but hope that it takes many months or even years of negotiations and elections before he is finally ejected.

During that time, whether it is a few weeks or a couple of years, it could well be that something comes up which saves his career once again. The situation in Israel is fluid and unpredictable, with the latest escalation on the northern border making a war with Hezbollah look more and more likely.

All of which means that even if these latest talks collapse, a ceasefire and hostage deal looks more likely than at any time since late last year. But the end of the Gaza War would not necessarily spell the end of Netanyahu.


David Swift is a historian and author. His next book, Scouse Republic, will be published in 2025.

davidswift87

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T Bone
T Bone
20 days ago

Test!

T Bone
T Bone
20 days ago

What’s the theory behind political systems that allow leaders to call for elections? Just curious?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
20 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

In Canada, we must have an election at least e wry five years, but the PM can call an election anytime between then. Think it works the same way in Britain. This obviously gives the ruling party an advantage, but calling an election too early can have political consequences as well.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
20 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

One of the main drivers of leader-called elections is if the current parliamentary numbers or circumstances have changed in a way that makes governing almost impossible.
The perfect example would be Boris Johnson calling the December 2019 election, to break the impasse caused by the Brexit debate.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
20 days ago

Ah yes, Bibi is a tyrant for not calling for elections since the war began and then when it is on the horizon the fact that he might do so it is all a fiendish trick to stay in power (i.e. be democratically re-elected and abide by the normal Israeli protocol of horse-trading post election). I think this writer and Mr Roussinos need to have a drink together.

El Uro
El Uro
20 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

This guy is probably the best Bibi specialist in UnHerd. Of the 18 articles mentioned in the list of his works here, 9 mention Bibi in the title or abstract. I was too lazy to look through the remaining 9, I’m afraid the picture would have been even worse.
Enviable constancy, almost passion.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
20 days ago

The military objectives that are genuinely achievable are very nearly achieved, so a ceasefire is the next logical step. The Israeli people should now pass judgement on Bibi – it was his strategy in the years leading up to Oct 7 that passively enabled Hamas to grow as strong as it had. Is Bibi the right person to work to find a better future? Again a question for the Israeli people. My concern would be if Bibi sought to cling to power post ceasefire without calling an election.