Netanyahu's turn is counting down without any progress - Analysis

Netanyahu hasn’t given up yet and is keeping his mandate with over a week until the October 24 deadline.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers killed in the 1973 Middle East War at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem October 10, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers killed in the 1973 Middle East War at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem October 10, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the task of forming the next government from President Reuven Rivlin, he called on his potential partners to work with him on moving as swiftly as possible to build a coalition.
“There’s no reason to waste the country’s time,” Netanyahu said.
Within days, an official Likud statement said: “There is no point in... continuing to paralyze the country.”
But Netanyahu’s last meeting with a potential partner, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, was 13 days ago. The Likud and Blue and White teams have not met in 20 days.
Meanwhile, as Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni – one of the leaders of Netanyahu’s key political partner party, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) – said at a Sukkot event this week, having a government in limbo for this long is a “disaster.”
“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said in a recording published by Walla. “Instead of sitting and preparing plans, building budgets to deal with the Iranians, the whole [government] is sitting for over a year in recess and not doing anything.”
Netanyahu is well aware of this, but there are several reasons he hasn’t given up yet and is holding on to his mandate with over a week until the October 24 deadline.
We don’t have a government, and it doesn’t look like we’re anywhere near having one, but that doesn’t mean Netanyahu twiddled his thumbs since that fateful day in the President’s Residence.
Netanyahu did three key things. One was to make sure the 55-seat right-wing bloc remains loyal, even if he doesn’t form a government on his first try. This almost guarantees that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will fail if Rivlin tasks him with the next attempt, and gives Netanyahu a starting advantage in the 21-day period in which the Knesset could choose a prime minister. At the moment, most of the bloc is with Netanyahu, but the New Right refuses to sign a written commitment.
Next, Netanyahu nipped in the bud any opposition in the Likud: he made it known that he was considering a leadership primary, and MK Gideon Sa’ar said that he would run – but only one MK supported him. Then, the central committee refused to hold the primary, anyway. But Netanyahu successfully drew Sa’ar out and showed that no one else has a chance to defeat the prime minister at this juncture.
Third, Netanyahu waited for Liberman to present his plan for putting together a unity government, to see if it’s something that can move talks forward. But there was nothing new in Liberman’s plan.
Liberman posted his plan on his Facebook page on October 9, immediately after Yom Kippur, and now a week has gone by with no movement at all.
There’s another factor in the not-so-distant future that Netanyahu is looking at while waiting to tell Rivlin he gives up, and that’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision about his indictment.
The latest reports suggest that Mandelblit’s decision will come in mid-November. Gantz would reportedly like to wait until after Netanyahu is indicted – assuming he is indicted – because he thinks the Likud would then oust him allowing Blue and White to form a coalition with them without going back on the party’s promise not to be in a government with Netanyahu under a recommended or actual indictment. Netanyahu, however, thinks that bribery charges against him will be dropped, and that he’ll have an easier time building a government.
If Netanyahu gives up his mandate within the next few days, Gantz’s 28-day period could end before Mandelblit has his
say.
But there’s an indication that Netanyahu will wait until his deadline.
In general, the prime minister prefers to make decisions at the last minute, waiting to see how developments turn out.
Plus, he canceled his planned trip to Japan next week, ostensibly because of the tense security situation, but it was also set for October 22, two days before his deadline.
And finally, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the Likud negotiating team, said last week that
“Netanyahu will not leave any stone overturned on the way to reaching a unity government. When he reaches the conclusion that there is no chance to do it – and in our opinion, the chance will be renewed at the end of the process – then he will return the mandate to the president.”
If Netanyahu and Elkin think “the chance will be renewed at the end of the process,” meaning next week, then they won’t give up on that so easily. The coalition talks will likely remain in a holding pattern for the coming days.