Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
With almost all of the votes counted, the cloudiness surrounding Tuesday’s election results – in which both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gave unequivocal victory speeches – has made way for some clarity.
Despite finishing in a virtual tie with 35 mandates each, there is a big difference in what the two parties can reap with their rewards. By any mathematical combination or party constellation, Blue and White will be unable to form a coalition. The Likud, on the other hand, should be able to comfortably form a 65-66 member coalition with likely partners Kulanu, Israeli Beytenu, URP, UTJ and Shas.
Whatever one thinks of him, the prime minister should be congratulated on the results and the all-but assured eventuality that he’ll continue on as prime minister for an unprecedented fifth time. In July, he will pass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-standing leader.
Netanyahu proved once again that he is a master strategist and Israel’s consummate politician. Over a million voters put their faith in him, even with all of the legal woes and potential indictments weighing over any government he forms.
Now, Netanyahu can take the easy route. He can stick to his constituency and form the above-described coalition, which would include ministerial positions for MKs like Betzalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz, as well Arye Deri, Yaakov Litzman and Avigdor Liberman – who quit the last coalition, triggering these elections.
That coalition would be intransient to any accommodations with the Palestinians, and would look upon US President Donald Trump’s much-touted, soon-to-be-revealed peace plan with distrust and rejection. That coalition would also include the URP’s Kahanist and proud-about-it Otzma faction, a specter that would further place Israel in the international spotlight as a country that is shifting away from democratic values.
And because of its many members with four or five mandates, that coalition would be rife with special interest demands and hard-boiled tactics, as well as threats and constant pressure on the ruling Likud.
However, Netanyahu could choose a different path, one that takes not only his interest at remaining at Israel’s helm into consideration, but puts the country’s best interests forward. He could put his natural partners on the Right aside and make an offer to Gantz and his Blue and White to be his main coalition partner in a genuine display of national unity.
This is not a time for partisanship and serving narrow interests. Israel faces a myriad of challenges, both security and domestic.
The situations on both the southern border with Hamas and the North with Iran and Hezbollah require a broad consensus. And let’s not forget that Blue and White also garnered more than a million votes. With three ex-generals, their security policies are not that different from Likud’s, and a united front would send a strong message to Israel’s enemies.
Likewise, when Trump’s peace plan is presented, instead of being pulled by his far-Right partners to reject it, Netanyahu would have a moderate and reasonable partner to face the challenge as an opportunity, not a thorn in its side.
Would Gantz and Blue and White be amenable to such an arrangement? In one of the “secret” tapes exposed during the campaign, Gantz was recorded saying that if the alternative was an extremist government with Smotrich as education minister, he would – for the good of the country – consider joining a coalition led by Netanyahu.
Forget the personal attacks and barbs that dominated the campaigns on both sides. When it comes down to it, it’s all politics and won’t prevent the two parties from coming together.
Only egos and quest for power can do that. Now is the time to put those traits aside. For the country’s best interest, it’s time for Netanyahu and Gantz to rise above petty politics and form a national unity government.
It’s the responsible path to take: one that will enable the Israeli government to represent the greatest number of its citizens, and not just a narrow coalition of interests. We deserve it – and we need it.
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