JERUSALEM – The dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, just a day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sacked two senior cabinet ministers, marks a surprising turnabout. Indeed, when Israelis vote again in March, more than two years ahead of schedule, Netanyahu could be voted out of office, with important implications not only for Israel, but also for the wider Middle East.
Until last summer, Netanyahu appeared politically unassailable. His coalition government, despite some internal bickering, was expected to serve out its term. Not even 10% of Israelis would have preferred the opposition leader, the Labor Party’s Yitzhak Herzog, as Prime Minister.
Things began to unravel when two cabinet ministers abruptly resigned, citing family commitments or policy disagreements. Then came the inconclusive war in Gaza, which, given Netanyahu’s unfulfilled pledge to “crush Hamas,” undermined his credibility, especially when ministers like Naftali Bennett, the leader of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home party, openly challenged his policies.
When some European parliaments voted in 2014 to recognize Palestine as an independent state, many Israelis, who had long blamed the Palestinians for the continued failure of peace talks, began to worry. More significant, Netanyahu’s public clashes with US President Barack Obama fueled concerns among Israelis – including supporters of Netanyahu’s Likud party – that their government’s policies were deepening Israel’s isolation and thus undermining its security.