Netanyahu lost, but Gantz didn't win yet - Analysis

Gantz has a serious political knot to untangle, and his chances seem as bad if not worse than Netanyahu’s.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz greets Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two days after Israel’s Election Day (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz greets Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two days after Israel’s Election Day
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Within minutes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notifying President Reuven Rivlin that he can’t form a government, Blue and White began to celebrate.
“Blue and White’s time has come,” the party’s leader Benny Gantz tweeted.
Their celebrations are premature. Just because Netanyahu lost, doesn’t mean that Gantz has won yet. Those applauding the end of the Netanyahu era – and there seem to be many – may be disappointed to learn that while this could be Netanyahu’s downfall, there’s still a chance that this is just a hiccup.
While it’s true Netanyahu failed to form a government twice this year, Gantz’s chances at success are not great. Gantz has a serious political knot to untangle, and his chances seem as bad if not worse than Netanyahu’s.
The message Blue and White sent out after Netanyahu admitted defeat was that Gantz will work on forming a “liberal unity government,” just as they’ve been saying for months at this point. But none of the challenges that Netanyahu faced in the 26 days have disappeared.
For starters, Netanyahu is still leader of Likud and still likely to be indicted in the next month, and Blue and White does not want to sit with him in that situation.
In addition, the religious and right-wing parties are holding fast to their 55-seat bloc under Netanyahu’s leadership. United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman wrote to Rivlin that he still supports Netanyahu as prime minister. Even the weakest link in the bunch is sticking to their plan; New Right leader Ayelet Shaked tweeted on Tuesday that she would be willing to meet with Gantz, but she would tell him he's wasting her time, because her party will not negotiate independently from the bloc.
Sound familiar?
Gantz doesn’t have any new and creative solutions to either of these issues. As reported previously, he’s willing to show some flexibility in the form of the “Rivlin plan” that would have Netanyahu be premier first and then take an extended break while fighting corruption charges, with Gantz taking his place as prime minister, but not everyone in Blue and White’s quadripartite leadership feels the same. And while Netanyahu’s lawyers think Attorney-General Avichai Mandeblit will drop the bribery charge, the Rivlin plan is a nonstarter if he doesn’t.
As for the religious-Right bloc, Netanyahu spent much of the past 26 days making sure it is ironclad, because he didn’t think he would manage to build a coalition in the first try, and wanted to make sure Gantz’s doesn’t succeed either. Gantz doesn’t even come close to a majority without some of the 55 seats that are loyal to Netanyahu.
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about Gantz forming a 44-seat minority government with Labor-Gesher and Democratic Union, with the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu supporting from the outside. That would bring him to 65 seats voting in favor of the government’s formation.
In the highly unlikely case that Gantz is able to form a minority government, it won’t last very long. The religious-Right bloc won’t support anything it does, and it’ll be hard for it to get Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu to support the same policies in the Knesset.
But it will mean Netanyahu is no longer prime minister and that Gantz will go into the next election with the advantage of being prime minister.
Still, there are plenty of reasons he won’t get those advantages. MK Mtanes Shehadeh, leader of the Balad party within the Joint List, said on Radio 103FM Tuesday that his three seats won’t support a minority government, so that brings it down to 62 votes. The other parties in the Joint List haven’t made such firm statements, but they would be hard-pressed to support many, if not most of the policies a Blue and White-led government would likely try to promote.
Netanyahu and Likud have accused Liberman of being willing to entertain that option in order to pressure him to disavow it. Liberman hasn’t really taken the bait; he’s said the possibility is unrealistic and absurd, but didn’t actually say he wouldn’t allow it to happen. Still, it seems highly unlikely that Liberman will cooperate with the Arab bloc or even the Meretz-dominated Democratic Union.
And within Gantz’s own list, there are quite a few right-wing MKs who would feel uncomfortable depending on an anti-Zionist faction like the Joint List.
Blue and White needs to ask itself whether, after months of accusing Netanyahu of being willing to do absolutely anything – like change laws to avoid his day in court over corruption charges – in order to remain prime minister, they’re willing to do absolutely anything – like betray the ethos of a mainstream, centrist Israeli party to coalesce with an openly, proudly anti-Zionist list – to get rid of Netanyahu.
As things stand, it’s hard to imagine that Gantz will be able to form a coalition in the next 28 days. Everyone will probably stay in position until the mandate to build a government moves to the Knesset for 21 days. Then, the politicians will either have to show some flexibility, or we’ll be going to a third election in a year. Until then, we have to wait and see.