Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu may have been tapped once again by his president to form a government in parliament, but doing so is considerably more challenging this time around. Even though Netanyahu’s party, Likud, won less seats than its primary opposition, Blue and White, the reigning prime minister was given another chance after failing earlier this year. Two weeks after the most recent election, there is still no government in Israel due to disagreements on how a coalition between three major parties would function.
Since the election, Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Benny Gantz of Blue and White have been reluctant to accept Netanyahu’s offer of a coalition. Gantz ran on a more liberal platform which contrasted heavily with Netanyahu’s extreme right policies. Under a Gantz government, stores would be allowed to remain open during the Shabbat and strict Orthodox yeshiva students would be drafted into the military. The conflict in the Gaza Strip would also be a focus under his leadership and his solution would likely be quite different than the incumbent’s.
On Wednesday. Liberman announced his party’s proposal to unite the three parties so that Israel might have a functioning government. Under the plan, Gantz would submit to a Netanyahu-led government and in return, would take his place at the helm if the prime minister is indicted on bribery charges. For his part, Netanyahu would relinquish his bloc of 55 seats, which presently consist of extreme right-wing parties and form a government from 68 seats from Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu.
Such an idea would allow leftist Knesset members to force their way into power because as soon as an indictment is handed down from the courts, Netanyahu would be gone leaving neither him nor his right-wing coalition bloc left. Naturally, Likud’s leadership has not been receptive of this idea. According to a party statement, Liberman’s plan is “irrelevant” and that he should give up on any idea of a left-wing bloc with Gantz at the helm.
Netanyahu had previously informed Right-Center bloc leadership that he would refuse any demand from Gantz that required him to give up his coalition seats. Without this precondition being satisfied, and with Gantz even rejecting prior offers from Netanyahu, there is little chance a government will be formed, especially considering the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is now upon us. The prime minister has informed close associates that he would likely give up his mandate to form a government back to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. If this were to happen, the responsibility would fall to Gantz.
Gantz and Liberman understand the implications of the Netanyahu vacating his mandate. With the prime minister out of the picture, they will be free to create their united government guided by liberal ideals, or at the very least, less-orthodox policies. For Netanyahu, however, it would represent the last bastion of hope he has to keep himself out of indictment. As prime minister, there is no legal mechanism to force him to give up control while facing charges and he could likely wield his power to limit the effect of the court.
There are three cases – known as Case 1000, 2000, and 4000 – against the Likud leader. During pre-indictment hearings, Netanyahu’s team managed to reduce the first case from a bribery charge to breach of trust. Doing so changes the severity of the charge and the court which would try the case. If he can manage to pull off the same feat with Case 4000 and get Case 2000 dropped as is his ultimate goal, Netanyahu could avoid any chance of the Israeli Supreme Court interfering.
The charges centre around the prime minister acceptance of gifts consisting of champagne and cigars, attempts to influence media coverage, and abuse of power by granting regulatory favours to business associates.
With the chances of Netanyahu avoiding indictment and the possibility of him crafting a governing coalition even slimmer, his days in Israeli politics may be over, at least for the near-term future. Gantz who reiterated his refusal to sit in a Netanyahu-led government would become the prime minister and likely have an easier time at negotiating a governing bloc. Rivlin would grant him the same 28 days that Netanyahu had and in the event that Gantz fails, the process would be opened up to any Knesset member to create a coalition. Should that too be unsuccessful, Israel would be forced to hold another election, which would be its third this year.
Netanyahu blamed Gantz’ nonacquiescence on Yair Lapid, the second-in-command of Blue and White.
“The only reason there is no unity government is Yair Lapid,” he tweeted. “Lapid is holding Benny Gantz hostage, and for some unknown reason, Gantz is surrendering to him. It is unacceptable that Lapid is dragging an entire country to an election, just because he is unwilling to abandon his dream to be prime minister and give up his rotation with Gantz.”
Barring some spur of the moment deal, Netanyahu appears to be on his way out the door. Free of the rigours of leadership, he will have plenty of time to focus on his looming bribery charges.