With looming corruption allegations against him amid political turmoil, never has one of the country’s longest serving prime ministers been so vulnerable.
Israel has faced the unprecedented prospect of holding another election within the span of six months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.
Many analysts think that this could be the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s turbulent political career, which was recently rattled by multiple corruption investigations.
Instead of letting his opponents use their chance to form a government, Netanyahu opted to dissolve the parliament to lead new elections, demonstrating his deep-rooted fears of the looming corruption investigations coming his way.
Before the April elections, Netanyahu, who was on his way to becoming the longest-serving prime minister, was also pushing to implement an immunity law that may have granted him some protection against the charges.
In addition, he sought to limit the authority wielded by the supreme court at overturning laws considered unconstitutional.
But without a solid government ahead of the September elections and failing any substantial changes to the law, Netanyahu is becoming increasingly vulnerable. His pre-trial hearing on corruption charges has been scheduled in October.
Netanyahu, the long-standing leader of the ultra-right Likud party, blamed his old, ultra-nationalist partner, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Hebrew for “Israel our home”) party, for failing to form a coalition government.
“Lieberman never intended to reach an agreement. He clearly wanted to shoot down this government and he is doing so because he reckons he will receive a few more votes,” an angry stone-faced Netanyahu said.
Lieberman, who adopts an even more hardcore approach than Netanyahu towards the Palestinians, was his former defence minister, but Netanyahu has since declared him "part of the left”.
But Lieberman has fired back accusations.
“The Likud party failed to form a coalition and government. That, coupled with the surrender to the ultra-orthodox, makes them responsible for the country returning to elections,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman vs Netanyahu
With Lieberman emerging as a kingmaker after the April elections, the bone of contention between him and Netanyahu are the military exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews. Lieberman insists that ultra-Orthodox Jews should not be exempt from serving in the military.
But Netanyahu’s ultra-orthodox allies have stubbornly gone against secularist Lieberman’s measures, exposing tensions between secularists and ultra-orthodox Jews.
In order to ensure a working coalition in the 120-member Israeli parliament (the Knesset), Netanyahu, whose right-wing alliance holds 60 seats, needs 61 MPs and Lieberman commands five crucial seats.
Lieberman was a former member of the Likud, but after falling out with Netanyahu in 1997, he founded his own party, which is mostly made up of Russian migrants living in Israel.
Experts say that the Lieberman-Netanyahu spat is about more than just the issue of military service. Lieberman seemingly wants to settle old scores against with his former boss and has consistently marketed himself as the better leader.
“He wants to prove that despite Netanyahu taking him for granted, he, with his five seats, can cause turmoil,” said Nahum Barnea, a senior journalist at Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.
“He is trying to seize leadership,” Barnea said.
Lieberman left the Likud-led government in late 2018 after criticising Netanyahu for agreeing to accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas amid a military escalation in the Gaza Strip.
The new elections, which will cost the country $131 million, could also effectively dim the chances of US President Donald Trump joining forces with Netanyahu ahead of the infamous “deal of the century”.
The White House called for an economic workshop in Bahrain in June to launch the initial phases of the master plan. But without a government led by Netanyahu, Washington’s persuasion power will be further diminished.
The Palestinian Authority and various Palestinian businessmen and groups have said they would not attend the Bahrain meeting.