On May 17, 2012, Time magazine ran a cover story on “King Bibi.”
Today, there is a real possibility the “king” will be dethroned. Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s political future is suddenly in real doubt. A new Jerusalem Post poll finds that 60% of Israelis don’t want him to remain as head of the government. Only 34% want him to remain in power.
This week, amidst growing political turbulence — but also amidst rising threats from Iran and ISIS — the Knesset (Israel’s 120-seat parliament) voted to dissolve itself and hold national elections, now slated for March 17th. The nation will then choose a new parliament and our next Prime Minister.
The big questions are these:
First, can Netanyahu maintain the leadership of his center-right “Likud” party, or will he be unseated? At least two Likud leaders (Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin) have announced their plans to challenge him in the upcoming primaries. Neither is likely to muster enough support to win, but there is another leader who very possibly could.
Gideon Saar, the former Education and Interior Minister, is Likud’s most popular political leader. Earlier this Fall, he stepped down from office to spend more time with his wife (a popular TV reporter) and young son. But now there are numerous and growing calls for him to reenter politics, challenge Bibi and give Likud and the nation fresh leadership. A new poll finds that in a head-to-head contest, 43% of Israelis would vote for Saar for Prime Minister, 38% would vote for Netanyahu, while 19% are unsure. Saar (whom I’ve met numerous times and who spoke at our first Epicenter Conference in Jerusalem in 2008) has until Sunday afternoon at 5pm to file his candidacy. I have no idea if he will do it, and I’m not taking a position one way or the other, but the very fact that there is this much discontent inside Likud regarding Bibi’s leadership is clearly a warning sign for Netanyahu and his team.
Second, if Netanyahu retains the leadership of Likud, can he and his party garner enough votes on March 17th to once again be Israel’s leading political party? Likud is slipping in the polls, and reports indicate that an emerging center-left bloc led by Labor Party head Yitzhak Herzog and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (who Netanyahu just fired) could potentially gain more seats in the Knesset than Likud. That said, there is also talk that Netanyahu might join forces with Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party in some form of an alliance to thwart the left.
Third, would Netanyahu be able to build a new governing coalition despite frayed relations with many of his current partners? Overall, the center-right parties are gaining seats in recent polls as the country worries about the Iran nuclear threat, ISIS, Hamas, the implosion of Syria, etcetera, even though that support is splintered among several parties and not all going to Likud. Netanyahu, with his vast national security and foreign policy experience, has seemed best suited to lead these natural political allies in the past. But Netanyahu has also made moves that have deeply frustrated and even angered some of these would-be allies, so it’s not so clear he could hold them together in the future.
Fourth, after three terms as Prime Minister, has Netanyahu lost the country’s confidence? And if so, who would emerge as the next Prime Minister? What direction would that leader take the country in both in terms of national security, foreign policy and the economy? The media are rife with talk of “Anybody But Bibi.” But few of the other potential contenders have anywhere near Netanyahu’s experience. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the next Prime Minister. It does mean the next 100 days or so are going to be very interesting indeed. (for more on the upcoming Israeli elections, please see below)
As Christians, let us be praying for the Lord to give wisdom to all of Israel’s current leaders — especially the Prime Minister — and to raise up the right lead to guide the nation going forward. Modern Israel needs leaders like the Biblical sons of Issachar, “men who understood the times & knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Above all, Israel needs leaders who know the Lord God of Israel personally, who faithfully read His Word every day, will obey His Word, seek the Lord’s direction in every situation, and govern according to the Scriptures.
Given the enormous threats facing this country, nothing less will do.
- Learn more about The Joshua Fund (www.joshuafund.com) and read our 2014 Donor Report. This is an organization my wife and I founded in 2006 to educate and mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her Arab neighbors in the name of Jesus, including caring for the poor and needy with food and other humanitarian relief. Please prayerfully consider making a generous, tax deductible, year end contribution.
- We are moving up release of my new thriller about the ISIS threat, THE THIRD TARGET. It will be published on Jan. 6.
- To pre-order THE THIRD TARGET, please click here.
On Dec. 8, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted to dissolve itself, thus triggering an early election. The coalition government made the decision to head to elections because the parties were unable to come to an agreement on a number of economic and political issues. Israel’s government is based on a democratic, parliamentary system in which a coalition with a majority of the Knesset seats — 61 out of 120 — is needed to form a government. The election — now moved up to Mar. 17, 2015 — reflects Israel’s Western, democratic values and traditions.
Israel has a clear process for elections based on proportional representation.
- Elections are conducted every four years, though it is typical for a coalition government not to reach the full tenure. In this case, a majority of the government moved to dissolve the Knesset, calling for elections to be conducted a few months ahead of schedule.
- The parties will hold primaries to establish party lists of candidates. Since the Israeli system is based on proportional representation, in which votes are cast for a party and not for an individual candidate, the number of seats a party receives will be determined by the percentages of votes it gains in the country-wide election.
- Once the election is finished, President Reuven Rivlin will ask a Knesset member, usually the leader of the party that received the most seats, to form a new government based on a coalition comprising at least 61 Knesset members. He or she must do so within 28 days, which can be extended, but not for more than another two weeks. If that leader cannot form a government, Rivlin will ask another Knesset member to form a coalition.
- Once a coalition has been configured, ministers have been determined, and other procedures are carried out, the prime minister-designate will request an expression of confidence in the new government by a majority of the Knesset. When that is achieved, the new government will take office.
The U.S.-Israel relationship transcends which political party holds power in either country.
- Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy. The Israeli public and its democratic system ensure lawfulness and attentiveness to the population’s voice.
- The U.S.-Israel relationship transcends politics and is based on a long-standing friendship and strategic partnership between Americans and Israelis, who face common threats and share a common bond.
- The strong alliance between the United States and Israel will continue to thrive regardless of which government is in place in Israel. As former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during Israel’s last elections, “a new coalition government in Israel certainly will not affect our policy approach, and we continue to have very good relations with leaders in Israel.”
- Prime Minister (since 2009) Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, also served as prime minister from 1996-1999 and finance minister from 2003-2005.
- Yair Lapid, former TV news anchor, presenter, actor and journalist, is the leader of Yesh Atid, a political party he formed in 2012. Netanyahu recently fired Lapid from his position as Minister of Finance.
- Avigdor Lieberman, party leader of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home), which represents many Israelis from the former Soviet Union, is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and was formerly a deputy prime minister.
- Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, head of the Labor party since Nov. 2013, is the Leader of the Opposition.
- Naftali Bennett, head of The Jewish Home party, is the current Minister of the Economy and holds other cabinet ministries. He is a veteran of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit and was a software entrepreneur before entering politics.
- Tzipi Livni, former leader of the opposition and Kadima party leader from 2009-2012. She also held several ministerial positions including Minister of Foreign Affairs (2006-2009) and Minister of Justice (2006-2007). Livni created the Hatnuah party in late 2012 and was recently dismissed from her post as Minister of Justice by Netanyahu.
- Eli Yishai, co-leader of the Sephardic religious party Shas, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior.
- Aryeh Deri, co-leader of Shas and former minister of the interior (1988-1993). His return to politics comes after a hiatus following his 2000 conviction and imprisonment over corruption charges.
- Moshe Kahlon served as a Likud Knesset member from 2003-2013 and as Minister of Welfare and Social Services from 2011-2013. Kahlon recently announced the launch of a yet-to-be-named political party focused on economic issues.