On Monday, Oct. 21, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated his 70th birthday. On that day, though, he receded from his 28-day trial to form a new governing coalition in Israel, two days before his deadline was up.
Netanyahu’s bitter failure to form a governing coalition —his second since April— only pushed the country into further political opacity.
In fact, Netanyahu has been trying to form a new government ever since April’s elections, which proved inconclusive after no party could reach the parliamentary minimum of 61 seats.
In those elections, instead of ceding his duties of forming the government to his rival, Benny Gantz, with whom he tied, Netanyahu’s shortcoming led him to dissolve the 120-seat Knesset (Israel’s parliament) in a stratagem to cancel the elections altogether.
His maneuver later led to the elections that were held on September 17, which proved just as much inconclusive, as no party, yet again, could reach the minimum 61 seats to form a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Benny Gantz’ centrist party Kahol Lavan won 33 seats, whereas Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud won 32.
The Knesset then had to endorse a candidate for premiership, and Netanyahu won the support of 55 lawmakers, whereas Gantz only 54 —including 7 from the Arab Joint List, a coalition of Arab-majority parties within the Knesset.
Netanyahu’s Second Chance
President Reuven Rivlin first nominated Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a governing coalition, but Netanyahu proved unable to do so, and Gantz was nominated second.
Benny Gantz received the mandate on Wednesday, Oct. 23, and is expected to form the new majority within a deadline of 28 days as well, which could lead to Netanyahu’s functions at the top office.
“Everyone expects us to bring the political chaos to an absolute end,” Gantz said when he accepted the nomination. Yet analysts say Benny Gantz, who is relatively a newcomer to politics, might have even less chance than Netanyahu to meet those requirements.
In the event of Gantz’s failure, the Knesset will have to nominate a candidate to lead a voting majority within the Knesset. If in such case the process proves furthermore inconclusive, Israel will go into its 3rd elections for the first time in its history.
But if the elections have been so far so divisive and led to no definite results, almost everyone in Israel would rather agree not to go into tedious elections for a third time.
Gantz’s Chance At Last
To this end, the means are either Benny Gantz’s succeeding in forming a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud and other right-wing lawmakers or coming to accept uniting with them.
Benny Gantz has long objected to collaborate with Netanyahu in case of rotating the premiership, arguing that he should never serve under a prime minister facing indictment. (Benjamin Netanyahu is facing charges over three corruption cases.)
Gantz had already tied with Netanyahu in the April elections, then in those of September, and appears unwavering, still, in his objection to work with Netanyahu in the event of indictment.
This will be Gantz’s first chance to form a governing majority —after he was impeded from doing so in April, when Netanyahu resorted to dissolving the Knesset. Gantz deems Kahol Lavan equal to assembling the needed majority, arguing that 80% of Israelis agree on 80% of the issues.
Netanyahu, for his part, has been calling on Gantz to join forces to easily form an overwhelming majority in the Knesset.
In a video he tweeted the day he told President Rivlin he was unable to form the governing majority, Netanyahu said he had been working “relentlessly, in the open but also in secret, in an effort to form a broad national unity government” with Gantz.
By “broad,” analysts say Netanyahu implies the participation of his right-wing supporters and the ultra-orthodox in the Knesset, which Gantz sees as personae non gratae in his liberal prospective government. Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-orthodox backers are the other part of Gantz rejection of working alongside Benjamin.
“To my regret, time and time again, he simply refused,” Netanyahu added.
In a statement following Gantz nomination, his centrist party said it was “determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, which the people of Israel voted for a month ago.”
The Intricate Standoff
Thus, the only two cases Benny Gantz could work with Netanyahu are ones in which Netanyahu no longer faces indictment and wherein he no longer need the ultra-orthodox and his supporters on the far right. One is unlikely as the other.
A recent Israel Democracy Institute poll showed that about 54% of Israelis believe Netanyahu should resign now; 63% believed he should when indicted —including almost half of Likud, the party he leads.
President Reuven Rivlin had suggested that Netanyahu, in the event of a unity government, could serve first but step down when on trial and return only if acquitted. But Benny Gantz refuses to collaborate even as Netanyahu is yet to receive any charges.
Netanyahu, for his part, is reluctant to serve second, as it entails never being prime minister again if the charges are pressed against him when he is not serving at the top office. He expects the Attorney General of Israel Avichai Mandelblit to simply drop the charges if Israel heads to the 3rd elections.
Avichai Mandelblit, who has worked as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary from 2013 to 2016, is also expected to announce his decision by the end of the year. The 3rd elections would take place in March 2020.
As the country was still undergoing the unprecedented political inertia, Benjamin Netanyahu surpassed David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July.
So long as no formal leader is propelled to the top office, Netanyahu remains as caretaker premier, and Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan now have until mid-Novermber to see if they are able to break Netanyahu’s stubborn reign of over a decade.