On March 3 just after polling closed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters went into a frenzy. Exit polls showed the Likud Party and its allies were just one seat short of the number required to form a government. The exit polls predicted a total of 60 seats for the pro-Netanyahu Right-wing and 54 seats for the centre-left bloc leaning towards Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu: ‘The Victory This Time is Sweeter’
“Dear Likud members, citizens of isreal , when the month of Adar begins, joy is increasing. And what a joy we we have tonight. It is a huge victory tonight. My friends we have been marching together for many years now. I remember the victory in 1996, but the victory this time is sweeter,” declared Netanyahu.
In reference to charges of corruption and bribery facing him he said.”We were facing tremendous forces. Our rivals said, ‘the Netanyahu era is over.’ We turned the lemons into lemonade.”
As it turned out, Netanyahu had celebrated too early. Two days later an announcement of final yet unofficial results by the Central Elections Committee placed the number of seats won by the right-wing at 58, two seats below what the exit poll had predicted .
The breakdown of the Pro-Netanyahu bloc was: Likud 36, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7 and Yamina 6. The opposition had a total of 62 seats, with Blue and White getting 33 seats, Labor Meretz 7, Yisrael Beiteinu Party 7 and the Joint Arab List 15.
Despite failing to garner the 61 seats needed to form a government, Netanyahu has continued to claim victory, emphasizing that Likud had won the election in a knockout and accusing his opponents of “trying to steal the decision from the masses of Israeli citizens who gave the Likud under his leadership a crushing victory.”
Gantz: ‘The Decision of Voters Must Be Respected’
Netanyahu’s claims have attracted a quick rejoinder from Gantz who warned that “in a democratic country , election results and the decision of the voters must be respected.” Ganz has also accused the Prime Minister of dangerous incitement against him. He pointed out the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 which he claimed was caused by the incitement of Netanyahu was the serving as the leader of the opposition at that time.
Taking to his Twitter handle he wrote, “Bibi we saw what happened when the incitement was out of control and no one stopped it in 1995. If you think that your threats will stop us you are making a bad mistake. You are only showing how important it is to replace you.”
“If we don’t wake up, the next political assassination is around the corner,” Gantz added.
How Will Israel’s Next Government be Formed?
These mudslinging, accusations and counter accusations will even be more heightened in the coming days as the two leaders position themselves to form a government. In normal circumstances the responsibility of forming the government usually goes to the leader of the party with most number of Knesset seats. But without a clear winner, it will be upon President Reuven Rivlin to choose a leader who will try to form a government.
What happens next is that the election results will be submitted to Rivlin who after consultation with the Knesset , will come up with the name of a leader who will attempt to form a government.
As things stand now the anti Netanyahu coalition has a total of 62 seats , which are enough to enable Gantz to form a government . The only barrier to this is the strong divisions among them. While Avigdor Lieberman now supports Gantz for premiership, he has a very hostile relations with the Joint List which has a total of 15 seats. The Joint List on the other hand has insisted that it wont seat in any government with Lieberman.
“We will not allow Lieberman to become a minister .We will not surrender our role as a legitimate group in politics,” Ayman Odeh the party leader said. Part of the disagreement emanates from Lieberman’s support for the transfer of Arab settlements near the Green Line into a future Palestine state.
The party has also urged Benny Gantz to drop the idea of a Jewish majority and the extension of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria as a precondition of forming any coalition government with him. These clashes of views rules out the possibility of Joint List supporting Gantz. This position is further strengthened by Gantz’s remarks just before the election that he wouldn’t partner with the Joint List which is predominantly Arab.
Netanyahu’s Options Going Forward
For Netanyahu, one of the options available to him is forming a narrow coalition by attracting defectors from the opposition. His allies are already trying to convince individual defectors from the smaller parties on the center-left. If this fails then he could negotiate with one of the opposition parties especially Yisrael Bietenu to back him. Unfortunately Liberman the party leader has ruled out such a possibility. Instead, according to reliable reports, he will be recommending the name of Gantz to the president and assessing him as the best candidate to form a government.
Perhaps the best way out of the deadlock would be for the formation of a unity government. This will, however, be a very complicated process which is bound to fail. Gantz has ruled out being part of any unity government involving Netanyahu because of the criminal charges facing him. One of the scheme that has been crafted by his allies is for the introduction of a bill barring indicted individuals from serving as prime minister.
The aim of the bill that is being fronted by Blue and White is to block Netanyahu from forming the government and to compel him to join a unity government led by Gantz. According to sources in Blue and White the bill would not be enacted retroactively, but “would be designed to pressure the Likud party to accept the formation of a unity government” under the conditions of Blue and Whites.
No matter the extent of the negotiations, it will require much more than political alignments for Israel to break out of the deadlock that has been running for almost a year now. Israeli leaders will need to compromise by stepping down from their hard-line positions and to sacrifice their own political ambitions in order for Israel to move forward.