Israel In Political Upheaval — Two Years Ahead Of Schedule
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Israel is entering a season of political upheaval two years ahead of schedule. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two key centrist ministers in his cabinet, effectively breaking up his governing coalition, which consisted of both his right wing party and more centrist factions. Amid angry rhetoric on all sides, Israeli lawmakers voted today to dissolve Parliament, and political factions there agreed to hold early parliamentary elections on March 17. We're joined now by NPR's Emily Harris to talk more about all this. Emily, Prime Minister Netanyahu - the leader of the conservative Likud Party - why would he set this in motion?
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, he said he couldn't govern anymore. As you know, Israel's a coalition system, right? So governments are formed not necessarily because everybody in the government - every party in that government - agrees with all the other parties, but they basically think they can live with the other parties and in that way gets some power of their own.
So this government that was formed almost two years ago had divides from the beginning. And some of those divides have been rearing their heads quite publicly recently. Netanyahu had some choices. He chose now, so presumably he feels he's in a good position to get what, he says, is a new, clear mandate from voters. Presumably, he wants that so he could lead a government that doesn't have very much internal dissent.
BLOCK: And he hopes to get that new, clear mandate that you're talking about in elections - these early elections - called for March 17. How does the field look?
HARRIS: Well, yeah, March 17 is more than three months away so how the field looks now could certainly change. There were two polls that were released yesterday by Israeli TV channels. Both predicted that Netanyahu's party - the Likud Party - would get the most votes, but still predicting around only a sixth or so of seats in Parliament.
There is another right-wing party - the Jewish home - led by Naftali Bennett, which is an ally of Likud and predicted to make significant gains this election as compared to two years ago - might come in right behind Likud. So that could give a beginning of a big solid right-wing group for the government. His party, though, might also split for this election and that could send voters in different directions.
BLOCK: And what would that mean if Netanyahu does not get the clear mandate he's looking for, what then?
HARRIS: Well, in a coalition system, like Israel's, if real political allies don't get a clear majority, then somebody with a relatively small following could wind up playing the kingmaker and getting some significant power. In that regard, one candidate to watch this time in Israel is the current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is also right-wing.
So if you look at that and the polls that are predicting Likud and Naftali Bennett's parties to do well - and the relatively weak leftist parties here - some analysts are predicting these early elections could wind up producing a very solid and a very right-wing Israeli government.
BLOCK: So, Emily, if that did turn out to be the case - a very right-wing Israeli government - what would the implications be for peace talks with the Palestinians?
HARRIS: Well, if it's solidly right-wing, Israel could, for example, choose to build more settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians expect to be part of their future state. The government could choose to not return to the negotiating table. There are a few more extreme right-wing proposals for a peace deal out there, but it's not clear if they would be more campaign positions or would actually ever turn into government policy.
If the to-be-elected coalition government turned out to be more centrist, that would potentially lead to a different scenario, of course, around negotiations. One pretty sure thing, Melissa, about these peace talks - they broke up officially with no results last April and they're not likely to be revived in the next few months of election campaigning in Israel.
BLOCK: OK - NPR's Emily Harris. We were talking about the early general election that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set in motion after firing two cabinet ministers. Emily, thanks.
HARRIS: Thanks, Melissa.
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