Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO)
With Israel in full holiday swing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not close to forming a government by the Oct. 24 deadline.
The Israeli government has been essentially stalled since the summer when, unable to form a coalition, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and call for new elections. The previous elections were held on April 9.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, whose party, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), is supportive of Netanyahu. “Instead of sitting and preparing plans, building budgets to deal with the Iranians, the whole [government] is sitting for over a year in recess and not doing anything.”
Netanyahu has the loyalty of a 55-seat right-wing bloc. While that isn’t enough to push him over the 60-vote mark, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz also doesn’t have enough support should President Reuben Rivlin task him with the next attempt to form a government.
At this point, both sides are waiting for Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu, to decide where he will throw his party’s support.
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Another mitigating factor is whether the attorney general will indict Netanyahu on corruption. If so, Likud would possibly oust the long-term party leader and then join forces with Blue and White.
In the meantime, Netanyahu canceled an overseas trip next week, two days before his deadline, presumably to continue negotiations for a government. Most Israelis want a unity government though it appears unlikely yet again.
“Netanyahu will not leave any stone overturned on the way to reaching a unity government,” said Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. “When he reaches the conclusion that there is no chance to do it – and in our opinion, the chance will be renewed at the end of the process – then he will return the mandate to the president.”
Meanwhile, Israelis are feeling the economic impact of this political limbo. According to a report in the Israeli financial site Calcalist, “local food manufacturers and retailers are using the regulatory gridlock to up their prices.”
“Israel has notoriously high living costs compared to the OECD average, with food prices 19% higher according to 2018 data,” the report said. “Out-of-pocket preschool spending in the country is the most expensive of all OECD countries, and on average, Israelis spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent. A recent survey by Dun & Bradstreet Corp. revealed that Israelis have on average a negative checking account balance of NIS 25,000 (approximately $7,090), and 5% are paying off at least five loans concurrently.”
With little regulation due to the political crisis, food retailers and manufacturers have been raising their prices little by little. Some have used the holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending next week with Sukkot as an excuse for food shortages that cause price hikes.