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Israel's Netanyahu eyeing fourth election in November amid trial concerns: Report

Sources say premier fears petition could force him to declare he is incapable of governing while sitting in the dock three times a week
Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if he is found guilty of bribery, and three years in prison for fraud and breach of trust (AFP)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is eyeing up a general election in November amid his ongoing corruption trial, the coronavirus pandemic and continuing protests, according to local media.

If the poll goes ahead, it would be the country's fourth election in less than two years.

Israel went to the ballot box in April and September 2019, and again in March 2020 after indecisive results.

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Political sources who spoke to Netanyahu and people close to him said on Wednesday that the premier had decided not to pass the government’s budget for 2020, opting instead to call for a general election to be held on 18 November, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

The witness stage of Netanyahu’s corruption trial is set to start in January 2021.

The sources said the premier is convinced that ahead of this stage of his trial, a petition will be filed with the High Court of Justice to force him to declare he is incapable of governing whilst sitting in the dock three times a week. 

It appears it was this that probaby pushed Netanyahu to consider a fourth election in November, along with ongoing domestic turmoil within the country.

Israel is going through a resurgent Covid-19 crisis as it struggles to ward off a second wave of the virus, as well as ongoing anti-Netanyahu protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, calling on him to step down amid charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust.

Netanyahu will act as the government caretaker if the coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible to hold a fourth election, Haaretz said.

Netanyahu's Likud party called the claims a "spin by Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) officials who are already in the midst of an election campaign".

The Blue and White party are currently serving in an acrimonious coalition with Likud.

'Quit discussing this terrible option'

Amid the poll rumours, an angry Israel President Reuvin Rivlin told cabinet ministers on Thursday to “stop the talk about holding an early election”.

“Quit the talk about moving up the election. Quit discussing this terrible option at this time, and avoid it. The State of Israel is not a rag doll to be dragged around behind you while you feud endlessly,” Rivlin tweeted. 

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On Tuesday night, Israeli police arrested 34 anti-government protestors in Jerusalem in Balfour Road, where the official residence of Netanyahu is located, for suspected disorderly conduct. 

The demonstrators were made up of two groups, one calling for the resignation of Netanyahu over the charges against him, and the other led by restaurateurs marching against the government's handling of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if he is found guilty of bribery, and three years in prison for fraud and breach of trust.

Meanwhile, Israel's Knesset passed legislation late on Wednesday that gave Netanyahu's cabinet sweeping emergency powers, including the ability to declare a national emergency and impose restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.