Netanyahu’s new math: When 56 is worth more than 60

Failing to achieve 61 seats without Liberman, Netanyahu chooses a diffrent option in order to remain Prime Minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, vote, September 17, 2019 (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, vote, September 17, 2019
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
At the end of May, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led his coalition in dissolving the Knesset and calling a second election in one year, it was because he could not form a coalition of more than 60 seats. It technically wouldn’t have been a minority coalition, but it wasn’t a majority either; it was a stalemate. Rather than have every single vote in the Knesset be an uphill battle, Netanyahu chose a different fight, and Israel went to another election.
Since then, Netanyahu’s goal was to reach 61 right-wing seats without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, but he failed.
As of Wednesday, there’s a new number in play: 56. After a meeting between Netanyahu and his “natural partners,” the leaders of Shas, UTJ and Yamina, they agreed to work as one right-wing bloc of 56 seats and negotiate together as a group.
How is 56 greater than 60? Call it Netanyahu’s new math.
“After we established the right-wing bloc, there are only two options,” Netanyahu said. “Either a government led by me, or a dangerous government leaning on Arab parties.”
Netanyahu’s only chance to remain prime minister is by making sure that his potential coalition partners don’t start wandering over to Blue and White’s side. The way to make sure they don’t do that is to promise he will stay with them and not follow what seems like the more obvious path to a coalition, to reach across the aisle himself.
The results as of Wednesday night, with over 90% of the vote counted, gave the Center-Left bloc 44 votes on its own, significantly fewer than the Right. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz could would need the Joint List’s recommendations – or at least 10 of them, without Balad – as well as Yisrael Beytenu’s in order to have more votes than Netanyahu.
So that’s the first place where the right-wing bloc of 56 could work to Netanyahu’s advantage. If Yisrael Beytenu and most of the Joint List don’t go for Gantz, the minority bloc may still be enough to convince President Reuven Rivlin to task Netanyahu with forming the government.
Even if Gantz gets all of those recommendations, adding up to 62, a majority of the Knesset, his path to a coalition remains unclear. Liberman said that he would not be in a government with the Joint List “even in a parallel universe,” and the feeling is mutual. The Yisrael Beytenu chairman repeated that he will only recommend a candidate that will commit to creating a national unity government – but as long as Likud remains loyal to Netanyahu, that requires Gantz to go back on his campaign promise not to sit with Netanyahu as long as he has indictments pending.
If Gantz tries to build a coalition without Liberman and without the Joint List, he’ll have Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher in the bag, but again, that’s only 44 seats.
Netanyahu wants the bloc of 56 to stick together so that, in that scenario, Gantz can’t win over the other 17 seats he needs to build a majority coalition. And then, if Gantz’s time runs out, Netanyahu would be the one to get the next shot at forming a government.
Of course, 56 does not make a majority either. But at that point, maybe Netanyahu could win over all or some of Blue and White or Labor-Gesher or even Yisrael Beytenu, despite Liberman’s tough talk. He might be counting on everyone’s hope not to drag the entire country into a third election in less than a year that could sway these MKs to do something that they currently refuse to do.
And that’s is how, by Netanyahu’s calculation, not only is 56 today worth more than 60 a few months ago, but 56 seems to be his only hope for remaining in office