What is standing in the way of a Netanyahu and Gantz rotation agreement?

Rivlin has been pushing them toward a unity coalition, which would likely involve a rotation agreement for the premiership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz meet after to discuss the formation of the new government, Setepmber 23 2019  (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz meet after to discuss the formation of the new government, Setepmber 23 2019
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
The Likud and Blue and White negotiating teams are set to meet on Tuesday, before their respective party leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz return to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday for another meeting, following the one on Monday night.
That meeting ended without white smoke rising from the President’s Residence chimney, so to speak, but it seems like the only way out of the current electoral mess is a unity government with a rotation for prime minister.
Both candidates have reasonable arguments as to why they should be prime minister. Gantz’s Blue and White received the most seats in the Knesset, with 33, but while Likud only has 31 seats, Netanyahu has more recommendations, with 55 to Gantz’s 54.
Notably, neither has a majority behind him, which means neither has a clear path to a coalition.
Hence, Rivlin has been pushing them towards a unity coalition, which would likely involve a rotation agreement for the premiership.
But there are many obstacles in the way and issues to work out before they reach Rivlin’s goal – if they manage to reach it at all.
No to Netanyahu
Blue and White’s biggest promise, and its most consistent one throughout both election campaigns this year, was that it will not be in a government with Netanyahu as long as he is under an actual or recommended indictment.
Netanyahu’s hearing with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is next week, and just about every legal reporter in the country, including at The Jerusalem Post, says Mandelblit has a strong case and is likely to indict – which means that Blue and White doesn’t have an easy excuse for sitting with Netanyahu.
One Blue and White source told the Post’s sister Hebrew newspaper Ma’ariv that they will not give up on this: “If the Likud doesn’t send [Netanyahu] home, we will go to another election.”
If Blue and White swallows its pride – and its promise – and sits with Netanyahu, there is little to no chance that they would agree to pass a law that would grant MKs automatic immunity from prosecution. Netanyahu has publicly denied backing such a law, but in May it was pushed by some of the lawmakers closest to him.
Who’s on first?
Gantz is talking to Netanyahu and the parties’ negotiating teams met. There would be nothing to talk about if Blue and White was really ruling Netanyahu out. It’s not too far-fetched to guess Blue and White will break their promise to disqualify Netanyahu, and go for a rotation agreement. Then the question will be, who will be prime minister first?
It’s important to note that if Netanyahu is indicted, he can be prime minister, but legally, all other ministers must resign if indicted. Therefore, while under indictment, Netanyahu would not be able to be a minister in prime minister Gantz’s cabinet.
One solution to this conundrum, proposed by Likud MK David Bitan, is that Netanyahu be premier for the government’s first year, then Gantz for two years, and then a year of whoever will be the Likud’s leader, depending on Netanyahu’s legal status. Another is that Netanyahu be first, but that Gantz have more than two years in the top spot.
Likud negotiators also argued that if the parties don’t manage to form a coalition after two or three tries, and then there is another election, Ne
Bloc party
Immediately after Netanyahu’s meeting with Gantz and Rivlin, the prime minister called the leaders of Bayit Yehudi, New Right, Shas and United Torah Judaism, the members of his 55-seat negotiating bloc. The parties agreed last week that they would negotiate together, and Netanyahu told them that even though he was talking to Gantz, he had not abandoned them.
If Netanyahu does stick to the bloc, it has the potential to be very disruptive to the coalition-building process. Gantz promised a “secular unity government,” without haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and without “extremists,” referring to Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich. Blue and White promised to pass a bill to conscript more haredim into the military; require haredim to study the core curriculum, including math and English; institute civil marriages; expand shops open on Saturdays; and many other things that the haredim would refuse to do. A government with haredim would go against Blue and White’s raison d’être – or at the very least that of its constituent party Yesh Atid.
In addition, Blue and White would be unlikely to support West Bank annexation or judicial reforms pushed by Bayit Yehudi, New Right and some of Likud, which Netanyahu promised to enact over this year’s two elections.
The bloc could also prevent Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman from joining the coalition, because he also campaigned on a platform of haredi-free government and secularist policies.
One response to the bloc issue that Blue and White is considering is a demand that the coalition also include a party that is closer to their views, such as Yisrael Beytenu or Labor-Gesher.
Third time’s a charm?
The number three comes into play in two ways in this negotiation.
First, there’s the argument that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz thinks he can succeed on the first try to build a coalition. Therefore, sources say Gantz does not want to be the first to be given a chance, because he thinks he can succeed as the second candidate.
Netanyahu, however, takes things even further, having told the Likud faction on Monday that he thinks both the first and the second attempts at coalition-building will fail, and therefore he wants to be third, at which points he thinks he would succeed. But, he added, he will still make a real effort on the first try.
The other important number three is a third election. Some of Netanyahu’s opponents accuse him of wanting a third election, and say that he is trying to frame Gantz as the reason for the eventual failure of coalition talks.
Netanyahu himself, along with his surrogates in Likud, says he does not want a third election, and that a unity government is the only way to move forward.
But the question remains, how can it move forward with all of these obstacles in the way?
Only one thing seems to be certain: Whether it’s Blue and White refusing to sit with Netanyahu or the haredim, or Netanyahu promising to keep his right-wing bloc intact, someone will have to go back on his word for anything but a third election to happen.
It’s lucky that politicians are not known for keeping their promises.