Israel Elections: Gantz could become PM on Nov. 17 or be fired March 24

It may not even matter whether the Blue and White Party makes it into the Knesset in the March 23 election.

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
 Every now and then the political-legal arena hits a fork in the road where the implications of the starkly different paths are enormous.
Aside from the speculation about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or one of the other likely large vote-getters will be able to assemble a coalition post-election, there are some dark horse scenarios regarding Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.
In one scenario he is eliminated from the political arena and fired on March 24.
But in another scenario, no one forms a coalition, the country goes to fifth elections, and he could end up becoming prime minister on November 17 by default.
Interestingly enough, it may not even matter whether the Blue and White Party makes it into the Knesset in the March 23 election.
According to the new Basic Laws that the outgoing coalition passed to help establish the Likud-Blue and White rotation government, Netanyahu cannot fire Gantz.
In all past elections, Netanyahu fired coalition partners he did not like as soon as elections were declared: whether that was Lapid, Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett or Tzipi Livni.
He would have loved to have fired Gantz. But the Basic Law gives Gantz and Blue and White control of half of the government until a new coalition is formed which passes new laws to withdraw those Basic Laws.
Another part of those Basic Laws was that Gantz automatically becomes prime minister on November 17.
Nothing in the Basic Laws says that Gantz must be a member of Knesset or that Blue and White as a party must be in the Knesset for this to happen.
Of course, no one would ever have intended for a wiped-out party and its beleaguered leader to take over the prime minister’s chair and maintain half of the government’s ministries, including Defense, Justice, Communications and a variety of others.
But according to the terms of the deal and the Basic Law, the government was also supposed to last at least three years, and Gantz was supposed to be prime minister for the second half of the three years.
Observers might have presumed that if the rotation government fell before Gantz had his chance, as it did, that a new election would lead to a new coalition government, which would replace the old Basic Law and Gantz.
But what if that does not happen?
In that case, even if Netanyahu has 28-30 seats in the Knesset and Gantz is out, Gantz and Blue and White may retain all of their privileges under the Basic Law.
Imagine that the country goes through three rounds of trying to form a coalition and fails – taking us to mid or late June.
If fifth elections take place in late September or early October and are still indecisive, Gantz would become transitional prime minister on November 17 in the middle of the process to form a new government, and would hold on to that position for 18 months, until someone else forms a coalition.
It would seem like an insane scenario, except that the country has already seen four rounds of elections in two years, so now the impossible only looks a little bit unlikely.
What’s more is that this situation could have an immediate impact on the Likud and other parties’ strategies.
Netanyahu seemed happy with three rounds of elections, because he stayed in office indefinitely as transitional prime minister. This was a pressure point he could always wield on others.
This time, it would be a fifth election and a quick new coalition or bust.
All of this could become slightly more likely if Gantz gets into the Knesset with the five seats he is currently polling.
There could be petitions to the High Court of Justice by Netanyahu or others to fire Gantz if he does not make it into the Knesset, or to prevent him from holding on to so many ministries or from becoming prime minister if he has only five seats.
Gantz might cave to his worsened political situation and agree to quit on March 24, or the High Court could allow him to be fired if he does make it into the Knesset. It could also block him from becoming prime minister given that a new election took place.
But we are talking about a Basic Law.
As much as some have ransacked the High Court for intervention, on two different issues this past year the justices made it pretty clear that they will not intervene to veto or overly interpret Basic Laws.
Since the law does not say anything about whether Gantz needs to be a Knesset member to be prime minister – again, because no one thought of such a bizarre scenario – it is very unlikely that the court would get involved.
The plain meaning of the Basic Law that the Likud passed along with everyone else was that Gantz becomes prime minister on November 17 automatically.
In all likelihood, something else will happen, either Netanyahu will form a new government, or one of the larger parties opposing him will.
But if not, Gantz could face equal possibilities of getting fired the day after Election Day along with becoming prime minister while heading a tiny or nonexistent party.