It's Election Season in Israel Again

A cabinet crisis has forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call early elections.

Updated 12/2/14

Less than two years since its last round of elections, Israel will be going back to the polls. In January 2013, voters gave Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party a third term as Israel's prime minister and propelled Yesh Atid, the fledgling centrist party, to a surprise second-place finish. (All this came despite predictions of a national rightward shift.)

It's now a feud between those two parties that is pushing Israel toward early elections. On Monday, a tense meeting to patch up issues between Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, Israel's finance minister and the head of Yesh Atid, ended unsuccessfully, leaving Netanyahu's fraying coalition on the brink of collapse. With a number of issues like a polarizing bill to declare Israel a "Jewish state" on the agenda, Netanyahu sought to frame a possible call for elections as a byproduct of a political assault on his policies:

The citizens of Israel vested me with responsibility, and with the current government, it is impossible to manage the country as the citizens of Israel expect that we do. If the unprecedented conduct of some of the cabinet ministers persists there will be no choice but to seek the voter’s trust once again.

In turn, Lapid blamed the possibility of new elections, which will be unpopular, on Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's governing coalition wasn't a cohesive collection of political parties to begin with. Alongside Likud and Yesh Atid, it includes the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, the pro-settler Jewish Home party, and Hatnuah, the party led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a principal in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

While economic issues were part of what drove Israeli voters to Yesh Atid during the last round of elections, security will probably be central to the upcoming election in the wake of a third war with Hamas in five years and an increase in violent attacks within Israel proper. In that case, political prognosticators who foresaw a national lurch to the right two years ago may have their predictions validated, albeit belatedly.

On Tuesday, it all became official when Netanyahu fired both Lapid and Livni from their cabinet positions. He will make a televised address on Tuesday evening. According to some early speculation, the elections could take place as soon as March.