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Israel Heads Toward New Elections After Netanyahu Fails To Put Government Together


Israel is headed for new elections. This comes just after elections last month that appeared to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fourth consecutive term. Netanyahu has not been able to put together a governing majority by today's deadline, so the Parliament has met and voted to set elections for September 17.

NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem and joins us with the latest. Hi, Daniel.


SHAPIRO: So just last month, it seemed like Netanyahu was the clear winner. How did this happen?

ESTRIN: Yeah, this is a really surprising situation. I mean, Netanyahu has been in power for a decade. He is Israel's most powerful politician. At least we thought he was. And he just won reelection last month. But he had to form a governing coalition, and he reached a deadlock. He couldn't get this one final party onboard for a majority. His deadline was midnight tonight, and that deadline passed.

And technically another lawmaker could be tapped to try to form the coalition and be prime minister. But that's something Netanyahu does not want to see happening, so his party pushed through a very quick vote in Parliament. And new elections are set. And this has never happened before where elections have been set just a month after the previous ones.

SHAPIRO: Why was it so hard for Netanyahu to form a governing majority? What were the sticking points?

ESTRIN: Well, the official reason given was that the former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had very high conditions. He demanded a mandatory military draft for ultra-Orthodox Jews, and ultra-Orthodox parties refused that.

But the bigger issue here is that Netanyahu is facing legal troubles. That is his chief concern. And by the end of this year, he's going to be facing likely corruption charges. And so he had been trying to build a coalition that would grant him immunity from prosecution while he's in office. So things got complicated because he was trying to, you know, weave in his immunity into the deals he was trying to make with these parties.

SHAPIRO: So given the legal peril hanging over Netanyahu's head, is there a chance that this redo of the election in September could result in him losing power?

ESTRIN: Well, he's banking on himself winning just like he did last month. But you know, when you go into elections, you don't know how you're going to come out of them. Some of his supporters could abandon him this time around. They may blame him for dragging the country into elections. And you know, it was a close vote last month that - in some respects because some smaller, right-wing parties did not get enough votes in the last elections. And so Netanyahu's victory really isn't a sure thing.

SHAPIRO: And here in the U.S., the White House has been working on a peace plan that they plan to unveil sometime in the coming months. Could this throw that into question?

ESTRIN: Well, it could delay the political part of this peace plan, which is supposed to be dealing with, you know, the bigger issues like borders and the question of a Palestinian state. The White House already delayed unveiling that part of the plan during the last elections. An administration official says that the other part of their peace plan, which is the economic part, is moving forward despite all of this political drama in Israel. So the U.S. will still hold its economic conference in Bahrain next month to unveil its plan to shore up the Palestinian economy.

The White House's peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has arrived in Israel today. Jared Kushner is reportedly here, too. They may be meeting Netanyahu tomorrow. And they're going to be meeting, if they do, a very different Netanyahu, a Netanyahu that used to be considered a political wizard, a magician who could kind of pull a rabbit out of his hat and solve this coalition crisis at the last minute. But now we don't see that that's happened.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting some breaking news from Jerusalem on new elections scheduled for September after Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition. Daniel, thanks very much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.