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Eye on Unity and U.S., Bibi Calls for Early Vote

Move also extends unconstitutional Tal Law, about Haredi military service

Marc Tracy
May 07, 2012
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressing the Likud Party yesterday.(Jack Guez/AFP/GettyImages)
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressing the Likud Party yesterday.(Jack Guez/AFP/GettyImages)

As suspected, Prime Minister Netanyahu called for elections on September 4 (when laws require that they not be held until October of next year at the latest).

The foremost technical reason is actually something that does not get nearly as much press stateside as issues like Iran, the peace process, or even the high cost of housing in Tel Aviv: the Tal Law. This was the statute, passed about a decade ago, that created a mechanism for Haredi national service, either in the IDF or through civil means The problem is that, first, earlier this year, the High Court ruled it unconstitutional; and, second, various Israel parties, most notably Yisrael Beiteinu, want a new service law that places more severe requirements on the Haredi community.

However, as a result of the Knesset’s likely dissolving itself today in preparation for the elections, the unconstitutional law will actually be extended until after the elections—after which, a new coalition might shape whatever replaces it. Though YB plans to try to bring their bill before a ministerial committee today (and other parties have pledged their own service bills) and seek a one-week postponement of dissolution, they are expected to fail. Politics!

In a speech to the Likud Party yesterday, Netanyahu—in his first public appearance since the death of his father Benzion, a week before—said that the snap elections were intended to contribute to stability by restricting campaigning to merely four months. But as we know, among his greater motivations is to put himself in a strong position should President Obama be re-elected in November and should Netanyahu decide Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. While some (including myself) assumed that the closeness of the Israeli and U.S. election days—September 4 (probably) and November 6—would preclude a new Bibi-led government’s attack until November, one Israeli report stated that the September elections are intended, precisely, to allow Netanyahu to attack in that window. Jonathan Tobin makes the valuable point that part of the usefulness here, as always, is the mere threat, which insures the West won’t go soft on negotiations and sanctions. (As Dennis Ross asserted this weekend, the Israeli talk is intended more to goad the world than announce its own intentions.)

It’s a window that’s likely to last fewer than two months. After elections, Netanyahu will still need to form a coalition, which will require choosing and bargaining with, as Shmuel Rosner notes, basically everyone: if polls hold, Bibi will be in position to form another right-wing coalition; a more centrist, national unity-style coalition; or any combination thereof.

What’s more clear is that after September 4, Israel will have the same head of government.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.