For a couple of hours after polling stations closed at 10 p.m. on April 9، Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger، Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz، thought that he had won. Deluded by an inaccurate TV exit poll، he even delivered a victory speech to his supporters.
For almost seven weeks after polling stations closed on Election Day، Netanyahu also thought he’d won، for a more credible reason: The leaders of six political parties، representing 65 of the 120 newly elected Knesset members، recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that he task Netanyahu with building a governing coalition. That recommendation was tantamount to their commitment to partner with Netanyahu in government، and the incumbent not unreasonably believed that he would now be able to cobble together a majority، albeit after deftly reconciling conflicting priorities and demands among his various potential partners.
In fact، however، the task proved beyond him — centrally because his nemesis Avigdor Liberman، head of the five-seat Yisrael Beytenu party، refused to join the coalition unless a bill regulating conscription of ultra-Orthodox males to the Israeli army، legislation of little practical significance but a certain symbolic value، was passed into law unchanged.
Failing to appreciate that Liberman had no desire to be won over، but was، rather، hoping to prevent Netanyahu retaining his job، the prime minister left it too late to try to persuade the various rabbinical patrons of the two ultra-Orthodox parties to bow to Liberman’s demands، ran out of time and، rather than have Rivlin offer one of the other 119 MKs the opportunity to build a coalition، opted to dissolve parliament and set new elections for September 17. In the wake of all this political drama، which reached its height (or rather depth) with the Knesset’s 74-45 vote to disperse at midnight on Wednesday night، a key question now is how the new election campaign will play out — or، more specifically، whether the Israeli electorate، which made its political preferences known in April، will elect a substantially different Knesset constellation barely five months later. *****David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israe