Amid deepening political and public health crises, Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported by the daily Haaretz (23 July) to be set on calling new elections for 18 November. This would be the country's fourth round of general elections in the last two years.
The next day Netanyahu denied the report, but tensions within the ruling coalition, agreed between Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right Likud party and Benny Gantz's centre-right Blue and White party in May, and also involving Avigdor Lieberman's secular far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party and various religious fundamentalist groups, remain sharp.
Those tensions have held back the passage of a budget, and stalled Netanyahu's plans to annex Palestinian territories to Israel, his flagship policy.
With protests demanding his resignation for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic growing, and his trial for corruption set to resume, Netanyahu could see fresh elections as a way to regroup and consolidate power. Although public confidence in his handling of the pandemic has crashed, polling suggests his party would win a majority if elections were held. A majority government would allow him to retake control of the justice ministry, potentially vital ahead of court proceedings that could rule him unfit for office, and before witnesses begin testifying in his trial, currently due to commence in January.
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has strongly opposed the idea of new elections, calling it a “terrible option.”
Meanwhile, anti-Netanyahu protests continue. On the morning of Wednesday 22 July, protesters blocked the entrance to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, before being dispersed by police, with some protesters arrested. In the protests since, on more than one occasion demonstrators have been attacked by unidentified far-right thugs, with the police pointedly keeping out of the way.