Are we really doing this again?

Indeed we are. For the first time in Israel’s 71 year history, the Knesset was dissolved before a coalition could be formed and less than two months after an election. A combination of a prime minister’s desperation and the dispersive distribution of power that naturally proceeds from Israel’s proportional representation system apparently provoked an unsolvable dilemma. Analysts, myself included, also clearly underestimated the personal enmity between Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Putting aside the temperature of the personal rhetoric for a moment, Israel has seen more polarizing and tense political eras than what prevails today. In those years, following wars and painful territorial concessions of the kind not seen in well over a decade, broad-based coalitions were established. Netanyahu’s stunning failure is a singular and unprecedented moment in Israeli political history, an ignominious defeat which rivals Shimon Peres’s botched coup (“the dirty trick”) against Yitzhak Shamir in 1990, when Peres abruptly withdrew Labor from a national-unity coalition with Likud and tried form a Labor-led government with ultra-Orthodox parties.

In recent decades, ideologically homogeneous coalitions were the exception to the pluralistic rule. Liberal, conservative, religious, and niche issue political parties sat together in coalitions that often endured well past their sell-by dates. The majority of a coalition usually leaned one way or the other, but some significant diversity in perspective was maintained. Consider Netanyahu’s coalitions in 2009 and 2013, built after what were considered at the time to be decisive victories for the bloc of right-wing parties. After the first election, Netanyahu invited Labor into the coalition and, toward the very end of that term, the Kadima Party. In 2013, the coalition was arguably a moderate one in full, with Yesh Atid and Hatnuah supplying Netanyahu with 25 MKs in exchange for locking out the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The aftermath of the 2015 election saw the establishment of a rather monochromatic right-wing coalition, albeit with a commitment from Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon not to allow any significant deviations from the legal status quo. But this time was different. In all the above cases, Netanyahu’s “natural partners” understood that he had other options and they couldn’t hold out for long. Now the tables have turned: Netanyahu clearly sought a path to immunity from prosecution, and even subsequent protection from a court (rightly) finding such an arrangement obscene, and could not afford to lose any right-wing party that threatened to bring his bloc below the 61 seat minimum for a majority — in effect, all of them except for the humiliated and enervated Kulanu.

Netanyahu may have a strong hold over the imaginations of a wide array of right-wing and religious voters, but the leaders of the other parties in that bloc are not in the business of offering gifts. They sensed a wounded animal desperate for their support and, cognizant of their own leverage, pounced. Avigdor Liberman, who leads a party with a base of aging secular Russian Jews, saw little reason to compromise with United Torah Judaism on the language of a military draft law that even in its toughest iteration would not have resulted in a dramatic change in the status quo.

But what made early elections a realistic outcome from the start was Netanyahu’s own political limitations, which were dictated by his corrupt desire to defy the justice system that fairly processed the cases of his predecessor and Liberman, who ought to have felt deeply resentful of Netanyahu’s belief that he was above that very same process. Never once did Netanyahu invite Kachol Lavan for a serious discussion on joining the coalition and when he finally entertained dropping immunity to entice Labor (or individual Labor MKs), it was on the last possible day and smacked of extreme insincerity.

This unnecessary election is not about the military draft law and is not happening because of it, just as Yair Lapid’s widely mocked plan for VAT exemptions for first-time homebuyers was not the cause of the 2015 election; the real reason for that election was the threat to Israel Hayom, the obsequious pro-Netanyahu freebie financed by Sheldon Adelson. Now, once again, Netanyahu is forcing Israel to endure his personal drama. He may well give up on the prospect of immunity after this experience, but this is the immunity election and the opposition should not let the Israeli public forget that for a second.