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4 things to watch ahead of Israel’s September election

13 6 0
31.05.2019

For the second time in a year, Israel is heading to the polls. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who only two months ago was celebrating a historic fifth term in office – now limps, battered and bruised, into his sixth election campaign, his Teflon image and “Bibi-can-fix-it” reputation severely tarnished.

The stakes are high. Fighting not only to preserve his political career but for immunity from prosecution and, ultimately, his freedom, if you thought April’s campaign season was ugly, you haven’t seen anything yet.

As the dust begins to settle on Wednesday’s shock vote to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections, here are four things to watch before 17 September.

As the hours ticked by before the midnight deadline to form a government on Wednesday, Netanyahu made a last ditch effort to reconcile the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party over the Haredi draft law.

Netanyahu’s suggestion sought to advance the Israel Defence Ministry’s (read, Lieberman’s) version of the law, promising that it would be presented to the Knesset – without amendments – for approval as soon as the government was formed. The bill would, however, require a second and third reading, meaning it wouldn’t automatically become law.

The prime minister’s move has been seen by the ultra-Orthodox parties as nothing short of betrayal, sparking anger and threats of reneging on an age-old alliance.

Perhaps most interestingly, however, Netanyahu’s final attempt to reach a deal exposed a rift in the ultra-Orthodox camp. Shas – the predominantly Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) ultra-Orthodox faction headed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri – said it would support Netanyahu’s proposal. Likewise, one of UTJ’s component parties, Degel HaTorah, also expressed its openness to compromise.

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Given the fact that Shas won eight seats in April’s election, and that technically four of the eight seats won by UTJ belong to Degel HaTorah, 12 of the 16 ultra-Orthodox Knesset Members (MKs) could theoretically vote to pass the Haredi draft law. If this were the case, the Agudat Yisrael party could find itself left out in the cold and, ultimately, unable to block the bill’s passage.

Such a rift could prove vital to ending the long impasse over the draft law. Yes, the ultra-Orthodox parties are smart, and will likely use the next four months to regroup their........

© Middle East Monitor