Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The elections for the Knesset in September are approaching, and the million dollar question among the political system and the media is who will succeed in forming a government after the elections.
Although the political parties are divided into two blocs, the right-wing bloc and the center-left bloc, which seems to be a stable political framework united around a more or less identical worldview, the reality shows that in some situations the blocs are in fact very fragile. The inability to form a right-wing government after the April elections illustrated this argument very well: though the right-wing bloc introduced a united front in the elections of 2019 and stood behind Netanyahu’s candidacy for prime minister, significant gaps were discovered during the negotiations for forming the government in matters of religion and state, which prevented Netanyahu from obtaining a majority of 61 MKs needed to establish a right-wing government.
Another issue that causes a split in the right-wing bloc is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In practice, whenever the Right was in power and the prime minister tried to lead a peace process with the Palestinians, a dispute arose in the right-wing bloc that threatened the stability of the government and even caused to its collapse. This was the case after the signing of the Wye Accords in 1998, and prior to the approval of the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the Knesset in 2005, both of which led to strong opposition among some of the right-wing parties.
The lack of political unity is not exclusive to the right-wing bloc. While the center-left bloc is portrayed as a united front against the Right, in practice it consists of two blocs, among which there is hardly any ideological identity. On one side, there are the center-left Zionist parties (Blue and White, Labor and Meretz), and on the other side, there are the Arab parties (Hadash-Ta’al and UAL-Balad), which in the coming election will unite to form an Arab Joint List.
In practice, it is not difficult to identify the ideological and political differences between the center-left Zionist parties and the Arab parties. On the one hand, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who rejects the inclusion of the Arab parties in his government, declared before the last elections that the political leadership of the Israeli-Arabs is speaking against the State of Israel and therefore he cannot conduct any political discourse with them. On the other hand – in addition to their statements against the State of Israel and support for the families of Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians – the refusal of the Arab parties to support Gantz’s candidacy for prime minister in the last elections and their opposition to signing surplus agreements with Meretz prior to the 2015 elections – on the grounds that they are unwilling to strengthen Zionist parties – only strengthen the ideological gap between the Arab parties and the Israeli Left.
DESPITE THE amorphous division of the blocs, one thing seems to be quite clear: the inability of the Zionist center-left bloc to form a government after the elections. First, even if the bloc of Arab parties supports Gantz’s candidacy for prime minister and decides to join his government, a scenario that seems unlikely due to the stubborn refusal of the Arab parties to participate in a Zionist government, the chances that the center-left bloc together with the Arab parties will win a majority of 61 Knesset members is very low. Second, even if Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman surprises everyone and decides to recommend Gantz’s candidacy for prime minister, he will never join a center-left government that includes the Arab parties, and certainly will not take part in the government supported by the Arab parties from the outside, as was the case during Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992-1995 government. Liberman, who has since been identified with the political Right, will not be able – both politically and possibly conscientiously – to join a government supported by the Arab parties.
Third, despite the open criticism of politicians against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their statements that they will not take part in a government headed by him, history has proved that talk is one thing and actions are another. Two of the most memorable examples are former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid’s famous statement (“read my lips”) that he will not sit with Shas in the government after the 1999 elections, and former Labor chairman Ehud Barak’s explicit promise after the 2009 elections that the Labor Party is going to the opposition. In the end, Meretz took part in the government with Shas, and the Labor Party joined the Netanyahu government. Thus, in view of the facts that Liberman has played a central role in Netanyahu’s governments since 2009 – both as foreign minister and as defense minister – it seems that he will find the political pretext to justify his renewed engagement with Netanyahu. In addition, in the same context, a scenario in which the Likud and Blue and White form a unity government is certainly possible.
In conclusion, there are two realistic scenarios after the September elections. Either a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu will be formed, or a unity government headed by Netanyahu will be established. In any case, the establishment of a center-left government headed by Gantz is an unlikely scenario. Even if the right-wing bloc without Yisrael Beytenu does not win a majority of 61 seats, there is no chance that Liberman will join a government led by Gantz dependent on external support from the Arab joint list. The reasonable scenario is that Liberman would prefer to join a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu or alternatively try to force the establishment of a unity government between Likud and Blue and White, with Yisrael Beytenu as the balance sheet in the government.
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.Christian Kaunert is a professor of policing and security, director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales and Jean Monnet chair of EU counter-terrorism.
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