Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fired two of his top cabinet ministers and rivals to force early elections. Netanyahu sacked both Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Both Lapid and Livni lead secular liberal parties which were part of Netanyahu’s coalition government. Both Livni and Lapid have been openly critical of Netanyahu for months, but the final straw revolved the so-called Jewish State Bill which would formally declare Israel a Jewish state. After Israel’s cabinet approved the bill, both Livni and Lapid vowed that their parties would vote against it. Lapid likened the bill to the imposition of Sharia law.
Then again Lapid actually blames Netanyahu for Israel’s poor relationship with the Obama Administration. Given how unpopular Obama is in Israel, I don’t think that stance will serve Lapid well. Since Lapid and Livni appeal to very similar constituencies they basically cancel each other out. So when the elections are over, Benjamin Netanyahu will still be Israel’s Prime Minister barring a spectacular collapse. The question is if he can assemble a coalition in which doesn’t include Livni and Lapid. If he can then Netanyahu will have gambled and won. But if Netanyahu ends up needing them then he will lose standing. He might remain Prime Minister, but he will be in a much weakened position. All of which would delight President Obama to no end.
UPDATE: Israelis will vote on March 17th. That’s more than three months away. The only concern I have is that longer the campaign, the more disadvantageous it could be to Netanyahu. This isn’t as long as the five month campaign during the 1999 election in which Netanyahu was defeated by Ehud Barak, but a lot could go wrong for Bibi in 100 days. Netanyahu does have the advantage of having a more fragmented opposition, but if voters coalesce around one figure he could be vulnerable. Even if Likud wins the most seats, he could haver trouble when it comes time to form a coalition. At this point, the election is Benjamin Netanyahu’s to lose.