Why the Likud and Blue and White agree stalling is for the better

Political Affairs: On hold – for good?

WILL THEY meet in the next government? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz at the memorial for Shimon Peres last month (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
WILL THEY meet in the next government? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz at the memorial for Shimon Peres last month
Thousands of people came to the President’s Residence on Thursday to shake hands with President Reuven Rivlin at his sukkah, many of whom attempted to give him unsolicited advice on how to solve the current political quagmire.
Next Thursday Rivlin’s sukkah will no longer be up, but, unless there is an unexpected agreement on a unity government over the next week, he is expected to receive ushpizin – holiday guests – of a different kind.
The guests will be representatives of the nine factions that crossed the electoral threshold in the election whose initial results were published a month ago today.
They will give Rivlin solicited advice about how to proceed in ending the political stalemate. Regardless of their advice, later that day – at the conclusion of those consultations, which will come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate ends at midnight the night before – Rivlin is expected to give Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the mandate to form a government .
There will be those who will pressure Rivlin not to bother giving Gantz the mandate, not because of his political views, but because it currently appears impossible for Gantz to form a government. Why bother giving Gantz 28 days to stall and do nothing, after Netanyahu wasted 28 days stalling and doing nothing? the critics will argue.
They will cite statistics of crucial budgetary allocations that remain on hold until a government is formed, including after-school programs for children, subsidies for Holocaust survivors, activities for the wheelchair-bound, stipends for residents of Gaza border communities and training for the IDF.
The politicians taking their time forming a government have infuriated citizens across the political spectrum. How could Blue and White – a party whose slogan is “Israel comes first” – take part in this slowdown? Shouldn’t Gantz just forgo his 28 days and let Rivlin skip straight to the final three weeks when any MK can obtain the signatures of 61 MKs needed to build a government and avoid a third election?
According to Blue and White officials, the answer that will be given is that stalling in building a coalition is good for Israel.
The Likud will be asked the same question of why the party wasted most of its 28-day mandate.
According to Likud officials, the answer that will be given is that stalling in building a coalition is good for Israel.
The good news is that they finally agree on something. The bad news is that what they agree on is not only counterintuitive, it is also extremely unpopular.
So what could be so good about stalling and prolonging the agony of the transition government Israel has had since the Knesset dispersed itself on December 24?
The answer is that hours before the deadline to form a government and avoid a third election comes Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s self-imposed deadline to decide on Netanyahu’s indictment.
Yonah Jeremy Bob reported in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post that Mandelblit wants to decide on the indictment before State Attorney Shai Nitzan leaves office, because he wants the decision framed as one made by him with Nitzan’s backing. Nitzan’s last real moment of work is Thursday, December 12, at 5 p.m.
The deadline to form a government is expected to be seven hours later, on the 12th day of the 12th month, a moment before the clock strikes 12 midnight. That moment will be the end of the three-week period in which any MK can obtain the signatures supporting him building a government.
By law, the MK does not need to have a government in place, policy guidelines, or cabinet appointments – just the 61 signatures. Mandelblit could, of course, decide on the indictment way ahead of his deadline, but even if he does not, seven hours is plenty of time to get the signatures and avoid an election.
Both Blue and White and the Likud say it is better to wait, because the public needs to know what is happening with Netanyahu before a government can be formed. Did Netanyahu commit bribery or not? Why be impatient and take such a key step of building a government, when the big news on Netanyahu is on the way?
It is for that reason that Blue and White purposely pretended to not have a majority of recommendations at the President’s Residence and got Balad’s three MKs to drop their endorsement of Gantz. Blue and White wanted to receive the mandate from Rivlin second, because it wanted to have the mandate when Mandelblit makes up his mind.
Blue and White officials expressed hope that Mandelblit will finalize a bribery indictment as soon as possible during the 28 days when Gantz has the exclusive right to form a government and can maximize pressure on the Likud to join his government.
So while Blue and White has been stalling since immediately after the September 17 election, Netanyahu joined that bandwagon two weeks ago, after he received an impression from his lawyers that his legal hearings went well and that the bribery charge against him would be dropped. Since then, no negotiations have been held.
Likud officials said that if the bribery charge will no longer be there, there will no longer be an excuse for Gantz not to join a government led by him during the three weeks when Netanyahu can again build a coalition after Gantz fails.
So what can happen between now and Mandelblit’s verdict? Both sides can prepare their plans for policy guidelines and portfolios that will not be publicized until then.
Likud and Blue and White officials close to Netanyahu and Gantz denied that nothing is happening during the period of stalling. They both said they are preparing to be as ready as possible after what they called the “garbage time” is over.
THE OFFICIALS close to Netanyahu and Gantz are not the only ones preparing. There are also current and future candidates in the Likud.
MK Gideon Sa’ar is the only candidate who had the courage to announce he would run against Netanyahu, but even he believes that Netanyahu will form the next government together with Blue and White or at least part of it.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said this week, as he has in the past, that he would run in the post-Netanyahu era. MK Nir Barkat made a similar announcement three weeks ago. Both of them are making their preparations behind the scenes for that post-Netanyahu era, as are several other candidates.
Barkat is presenting himself as a candidate who could receive Netanyahu’s endorsement to replace him, because the two men are close, and Netanyahu would want his successor to be a worldly candidate who knows how to speak to international leaders, businessmen and media. Barkat is close to billionaires such as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson and Michael Bloomberg and world leaders such as Boris Johnson.
No one in the Likud is talking openly about deposing Netanyahu yet, and even if there would be a bribery indictment, no MK in the party has said they would call upon him to quit. If a third election takes place, there would have to be a leadership primary in the Likud, and so far only Netanyahu and Sa’ar would be in it.
Preparations are under way, and whenever the stalling time is over, everyone will know what they were missing.