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Analysis: Can anyone dethrone Netanyahu if early elections are held?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara talk to the press after attending an exhibit on Jerusalem at the Unted Nations on March 8, 2018
TIMOTHY A. CLARY (AFP)
Bennett furious about going to the elections now and went out this week to battle Netanyahu

It was hard not to smile when, of all the people in the world, Benjamin Netanyahu, from the Knesset podium, called for his coalition parties to try to prevent elections. When you look at the political situation, as reflected in the polls published on the evening television channels, it is clear to everyone that elections will now only benefit the one who is ostensibly trying to prevent them.

In recent weeks, it has been clear that elections are necessary for the prime minister to breathe. Netanyahu understands the difficult legal battle he is gearing up for - he needs to get tough, as his political clock has started to tick down. Simply put: he needs to begin a new term now.

Otherwise, he may find himself at the end of his term with an indictment and a very complicated political situation. Not only that, the public's confidence in Netanyahu now, as he is up to his neck in interrogations, is liable to make the indictment, if submitted, look like a small incident.

Some in the political establishment believe that Netanyahu and Liberman are in full coordination. One tosses the ball to the other, and the other returns it, just as in their good days when Liberman was the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office during Netanyahu’s first term in 1996. On the other hand, some say that Netanyahu, even now, is still somewhat afraid of elections.

First, some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners (Shas, for example) oscillate on the electoral threshold, which, if they fall under, can change the ratio between the political right and the political left in Knesset. Secondly, unexpected scenarios - such as Yair Lapid's union with Orly Levy or joining with political players like Bogey Ya'alon - can strengthen Yesh Atid’s political future.

Netanyahu also knows that an investigation during elections is not a pleasant thing. Who can know what will be leaked, what materials are being provided by the state witnesses Philber and Hefetz, what recordings can suddenly emerge. Netanyahu's risk of losing an election - a scenario that seems at the moment unrealistic - is enormous. His legal fate is liable to be sealed without the precise respect for his position and for the details of the investigation, as a sitting prime minister under investigation is informally afforded.

Netanyahu also takes a certain risk in the fact that the elections will not take place at a time most convenient to his coalition. It might earn him a sour face from them on the day after.

Bennett's test

For the opposition, these elections can be used as a torch against Netanyahu. Gabbai is still trailing behind in the polls, and for the time being, it is difficult for him to break through. His party's stuttering stance on the date of the elections did nothing for it. An opposition party can not afford to reach a situation in which a prime minister mocks their cowardice in elections in the Knesset. Gabay has a number of cards up his sleeve that he has set up for himself in advance. The question is whether he has strong enough players to play them.

It will also be worth looking at Naftali Bennett in the upcoming elections. He is furious about going to the elections now and went out this week to battle Netanyahu with his bare fists. The education minister understands the risk: If Netanyahu cries out to the nationalist-religious public, and Bennett is already having a bitter experience, the voters can rejoin the Likud, and thereby weaken the Jewish Home party. Bennett will be the immediate casualty.

This week Bennett hinted, some will say threatened, that he will run for prime minister if Netanyahu drops the government coalition for no reason. It is also time for his test: is he strong enough, mature and ready enough to challenge Netanyahu and truly declare a candidacy for prime minister, or will he eventually remain a captive in Netanyahu's next government?

This article originally appeared on Ynet.

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