Israel PM Netanyahu to call election

Israel PM Netanyahu to call election

Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to declare that early elections will be held less than four months from now, a move that would give him a referendum on his leadership that would help him fend off both Israeli and international critics.

The government’s term can last through October 2013.

But his coalition partners are challenging the Israeli leader on an array of domestic issues.

He might also fear that after US elections in November, the domestic pressure will be compounded by pressure from Washington to refrain from attacking Iran or make peace with the Palestinians.

Polls suggest his re-election chances are good.

Officials from his Likud Party said that Mr Netanyahu will announce tonight that the vote will be held on September 4.

Mr Netanyahu's government - Israel's most stable in years - could have remained in power until 2013. But coalition partners are challenging him on an array of domestic issues, including the budget, drafting the ultra-Orthodox and pulling down unsanctioned settlement construction.

His Likud Party is expected to win at least one quarter of parliament’s 120 seats to become the legislature’s largest faction, which would position him to become prime minister for a third term. He first served in the late 1990s.

What the polls do not show is what kind of future government he might head. If voting breaks down as the surveys indicate, Mr Netanyahu might be able to put together a more centrist coalition than his current government, which takes a hard line on peacemaking with the Palestinians and has submitted Bills designed to punish groups that disagree with Israeli policy on issues like settlements and wartime conduct.

The prime minister signalled in December that he might move up the vote when he called a snap Likud leadership race that he handily won.

Early elections talk heated up last week, but an announcement was put off as Mr Netanyahu mourned the death of his father. Mr Netanyahu was ending the seven-day Jewish mourning period today.

Over the weekend, several Israeli commentators said a possible Israeli strike on Iran drove Mr Netanyahu’s quest for early balloting.

They reasoned that holding the vote before the US presidential race in November would give Mr Netanyahu an opportunity to order an attack in September or October, at a time when president Barack Obama would be reluctant to criticise him publicly for fear of alienating the Jewish vote.

Mr Netanyahu aides do not discuss the prime minister’s thinking on Iran. Israel, like the West, thinks Tehran’s nuclear program ultimately is designed to make bombs, and not just for peaceful purposes like electricity generation and medical isotopes, as Iran claims.

The ostensible pretext for elections was foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s veiled threat last week to bring down the government if parliament does not act to apply Israel’s compulsory military draft to ultra-Orthodox men over the objection of ultra-Orthodox politicians. Both Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu and ultra-Orthodox parties sit in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.

Another divisive issue is an August 1 deadline for the government to dismantle an unauthorised West Bank settlement outpost over the objection of hard-line coalition allies and settlers.

Mass protests also are expected for the second summer in a row over Israel’s high cost of living.

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