Over the past few years, when politicians have been pressured to pass controversial legislation, there has been an expectation that the legal establishment could be counted on to later come in, intervene and cancel it.
Even politicians who regularly complain about the judicial system flexing its muscles have used this strategy when they did not want to make key decisions themselves.
For nearly a year, the same has seemingly held true with the process of building a government.
People forget that the official reason given last December for advancing the election from November 5 to April 9 was that the courts were trying to make the Knesset decide about drafting yeshiva students. But the real reason was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to ensure that the election would be held before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him pending a hearing.
Since then there have been two elections with inconclusive results. Netanyahu has had two chances to form a government and failed both times, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will also fail if he does not succeed in building a coalition by Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m.
Netanyahu’s legal fate has hovered over the entire process of forming a coalition. From day one after the second election on September 17, it has been written that every moment between then and Mandelblit’s decision on whether to indict the prime minister was political “garbage time.” It has been conventional wisdom that whatever decision Mandelblit makes on indicting Netanyahu for bribery would ease the process of forming a government.
Haaretz ran an incorrect report on Sunday that Mandelblit could decide on Netanyahu’s cases by this Tuesday. If that report had been true, then the real process of coalition building would have begun in earnest a second after the decision and been limited to the hours between then and the following night.
But now that it is clear that Mandelblit will not rule on Netanyahu’s cases by the Wednesday night deadline, and that Gantz cannot rely anymore on the attorney-general to make his biggest political decision for him. Because Netanyahu will not agree to go second in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, the only government that Gantz can form now is a minority coalition with the support of the Joint List from outside the government with a parliamentary safety net.
Gantz must decide now whether to bite the bullet and go for that option – the only government he can make – or enter the final 21 days of coalition-building with no guarantee that he will even be second-fiddle in a rotation. Liberman joining a right-wing government under Netanyahu and leaving Blue and White outside remains a possibility, especially if Netanyahu offers a rotation as prime minister to him instead of Gantz.
Had Mandelblit’s ruling only been expected a month or two away, the decision might have been easier for Gantz. But legal sources have said that it is looking more and more likely that the attorney-general will make his long awaited announcement on Sunday or Monday, ahead of a major legal conference in Eilat that starts on Tuesday.
Channel 12 reported that timeline on its prime time newscast Sunday night. The report did not go unnoticed by Gantz and his closest advisers.
Gantz will have to decide whether to take a huge risk and rely on the support of Arab MKs to oust Netanyahu only a few days before it will be clear whether the prime minister committed bribery. He will not have the post-indictment Likud rebellion he had been hoping to rely on.
There is a cockpit of leaders in Blue and White, but it is ultimately Gantz’s decision alone. Whatever he decides will be his sole responsibility.
The legal establishment will not be there to be blamed; the legal establishment will not be there to decide.