Prime Minister manages to cling to power in the midst of several crises: global pandemic, another surge of violence in Gaza, and demonstrations on the streets.
Over Israel loom the dark clouds of a perfect storm of coincidental crises. The Council of Ministers did not meet in Jerusalem on Sunday at the start of the Middle East working week. The disagreements between the prime minister, the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, and his coalition partner and defence minister, Benny Gantz, border on the rupture before the blocking of the budgets for 2020, still pending. If before midnight on Monday a law is not voted to extend its approval, the call for legislative elections, the fourth in a year and a half, will take place automatically for November.
The Knesset (Parliament) had failed to unblock a principle of agreement on Sunday night, despite Netanyahu’s announcement that an understanding had been reached to circumvent the elections. In any case, it is a legal patch to postpone the outcome of the political crisis for 100 days. The prime minister, a new call to the polls would exonerate him from the commitment of having to give up the helm of the Government to Gantz and would allow him to continue facing his trial for three cases of corruption protected by the legal armour that gives him power.
Although voting intention polls put the right-wing Likud in the lead, Netanyahu’s party would once again be far from forming a majority in the conservative Knesset arch. Without counting on the motion of censure that the opposition threatens to present in the Chamber to remove him from power, the electoral advance appears risky for their interests amid the fronts of the storm of instability that is shaking Israel. These are the main ones:
The pandemic and uncontrolled economy
The health authorities are also studying the imposition of general confinement measures next month, coinciding with the religious holidays that take place after the Jewish New Year. The decision seems inevitable if the daily average of 1,400 people diagnosed last week as carriers of the coronavirus in Israel, a country with around nine million inhabitants, is maintained. In about fifteen cities, including Jerusalem, “red zones” have been marked with restrictions that usually coincide with districts of the Arab minorities (20% of the population) and ultra-Orthodox Jews (12%). Total lockdown in spring sank the economy, which plummeted 28% in the second quarter and has gone from an unemployment rate of 4% in February to 21% in July. The pre-electoral atmosphere in the Knesset has not permeated the public.
Escalation in Gaza
For about two weeks, the launching of incendiary or explosive balloons and some rockets from the Gaza Strip and the increasingly forceful Israeli nightly retaliatory bombardments raise fears of an uncontrolled escalation of the war. Although it has been kept safe from the pandemic thanks to isolation, the desperate economic situation of its two million inhabitants is the breeding ground for a new conflict. The only power station in the Strip has stopped working due to a lack of fuel after the Army closed the border last week. In the Israeli towns near the Palestinian territory, the alarm sirens that warn of the launching of projectiles silence the temptation of a new call to the polls.
More than 10,000 people demonstrated Saturday night at Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence to demand his resignation after being indicted for bribery, fraud and abuse of power. The public outcry against corruption has spread throughout the country for a month with an unprecedented dimension from the social revolt of 2011. The polarisation has emerged in clashes with counter-demonstrations by supporters of the prime minister. The exasperation of some has sparked clashes with security forces, who detained 30 people in Jerusalem on Saturday amid scenes of tension.
As if the domestic complexities weren’t enough, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also travelled to Israel a dozen days after the agreement to normalise relations with the United Arab Emirates sponsored by Washington. As the only visible step taken by the Donald Trump Administration in the “deal of the century”, its controversial plan for the Middle East, Pompeo is now seeking to expand it to other Arab countries. The regional tour that begins in Jerusalem, however, aims, in particular, to reinforce, together with allied countries, the tightening of sanctions against Iran after the fiasco suffered at the United Nations by US diplomacy.