After three elections in under a year, Israel could end up having none until the same day that Americans will go to the polls for a presidential election: No, not this year but November 5, 2024.
That possibility cannot be taken for granted, because the government formation laws that passed on Thursday only talk about a three-year term. The bill does mention that Likud and Blue and White could ask the Knesset to extend the term, but had action not been taken overnight, it would have been impossible.
What enabled the possible change is a last-minute loophole discovered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer and the trust gradually building between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who are determined to build a new political cockpit together.
The lawyer, Michael Ravilo, called Blue and White faction chairman Avi Nissenkorn, warning him that the existing law would require 80 MKs to extend the government’s tenure, a threshold beyond the realm of possibility.
Netanyahu and Gantz knew they had to take action, but they were stuck in the Knesset plenum voting nonstop on 1,000 amendments submitted by the opposition. They only had an hour-long break that had been set to allow MKs observing Ramadan to break their fast.
While Netanyahu wanted to set the term for the full four and a half years allowed by law in the legislation passed on Thursday, Gantz insisted that the two sides still have to give their approval when the end of the three years approaches. Lowering the threshold for the extension from 80 MKs to 70 was a trust-building compromise between the two party leaders.
But before it became clear that the term would not be changed, an MK from the Joint List overheard the discussions between Netanyahu and Gantz. He immediately got his fellow MKs in the opposition, Meir Cohen and Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) to take action.
The opposition suddenly withdrew their several hundred remaining amendments to catch the coalition unprepared to pass its own government formation bills that had not yet been finalized between Netanyahu and Gantz. The maneuver caused chaos in the Knesset plenum.
The coalition regrouped and reconvened the committee legislating the bills for voting all night in order to lower the threshold. The opposition eventually surrendered and let the government formation bills pass into law long before Thursday night’s deadline.
“They call us neophytes and suckers, but we have plenty to be proud of,” said a source in Blue and White, who was present for the drama. “For 19 MKs in our bloc, we got an impressive haul of portfolios that can help us make positive changes. We robbed the shirt off the back of Bibi, who can’t decide anything without Gantz, can no longer pursue immunity from prosecution, and went from having a yes-man as justice minister in Amir Ohana to having Nissenkorn, who is the opposite.”
Netanyahu’s trial that begins in two weeks will determine whether Netanyahu can last through his year-and-a-half term and whether there is any chance that after Gantz’s year-and-a-half, he can come back to office again.
Completing the entire four-and-a-half-year term remains very unlikely. But coming anywhere close to that is far more palatable to the public than having multiple elections in a year again.