Will there be a fourth elections?

Elections used to create genuine excitement in Israel, but this is no longer the case. Election fever has been replaced by election fatigue. People are dreading the prospect of more deadlock and a fourth election.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz: Can he beat Netanyahu? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz: Can he beat Netanyahu?
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

At 3 p.m. on March 17, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face three judges at the Jerusalem District Court to defend himself on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the country’s most significant corruption trial to date.
He denies any wrongdoing in accepting luxury gifts from billionaire friends and rejects the allegations he traded favors with Israeli media and telecom chiefs in return for positive news coverage.
Two weeks before the start of the trial, on March 2, Israelis go to the polls for the third time in 11 months and will decide if Israel’s longest-serving leader will also become the first sitting prime minister to fight a criminal case while in office.
The main opposition party, Blue and White, hoped the grave allegations and the start of the trial, so close to the election, would herald the end of the Netanyahu era.
“On March 17, Netanyahu will lose his mandate and his trial will begin,” said Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, addressing an election rally in Rehovot. “Netanyahu will deal only with himself. He cannot take care of the citizens of Israel,” stressing that, as a former army chief, he knows how important it is for a prime minister to be available at all times. “Do you want a prime minister who goes on trial?” he asked the crowd. “Netanyahu will go on trial and we will take over.”
The Likud chose to highlight the fact that a criminal probe was ordered into a cybersecurity firm headed by Gantz before it went bankrupt, even though Gantz himself is not a suspect.
“The public must know the truth, here and now, and before the elections,” Netanyahu said.
The polls show Netanyahu’s trial and other significant events during the election campaign – such as the January launch of the United States Middle East peace plan – failed to have a dramatic impact on voting intentions.
Netanyahu engineered a number of events in the run-up to the election in the hope of winning votes: the promise of annexation of West Bank settlements and extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley in the immediate aftermath of the release of the “Deal of the Century;” securing the release of backpacker Naama Issachar, who was being held in a Russian prison; the promise to bring an additional 400 Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel; the intention to establish diplomatic relations with Sudan; the promise to appoint former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat as finance minister and the promise to build thousands of new homes for Jews in east Jerusalem.
However, the polls remained remarkably static throughout the campaign. The last weekend polls before the election indicated that neither political bloc would reach the 61 seats needed to form a government.
A week before the election, two polls showed the Likud edging Blue and White for the first time, by the narrowest of margins. KAN, the public broadcaster, projected 35 seats for Likud and 34 for Blue and White, while a Channel 12 poll gave Likud 34 to 33 for Blue and White.
According to the KAN poll, Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc will receive 56 seats, compared to 57 for the center-left, together with the Joint List. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu has seven seats.
Channel 12 gave Netanyahu’s bloc 57 seats, compared to 56 for the center-left-Joint List, with seven for Yisrael Beytenu.
Based on these projections, Israel faces more uncertainty after the March election when the arduous task of coalition building will resume. Once again Liberman looks set to be the pivotal deal maker.
This time around, Liberman has made it clear that Yisrael Beytenu will not recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu be tasked with forming a government, although he added, however, he “would very much like to see Netanyahu’s Likud as one of the parties forming the next governing coalition.”
He appears to have dropped his demand for a Likud-Blue and White-Yisrael Beytenu unity government while holding out the possibility of sitting in a coalition together with Labor-Gesher-Meretz, but not with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties nor with the predominantly Arab Joint List.
On one point he is adamant: “A fourth election won’t take place. Period.”
However, the political pundits are not so sure, finding it difficult to find a way out of the deadlock based on the preelection polls.
Gantz has previously been open to the idea of a unity government with Likud, but he has made it contingent on Netanyahu stepping down in order to tend to his legal troubles. While Blue and White could theoretically swear in a minority government together with Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher-Meretz, it would have to rely on the Joint List for support from outside the government on key votes.
The Likud made a central theme of its campaign the claim that Blue and White cannot form a government without the support of the Joint List. Gantz was adamant this is a nonstarter. “The Joint List won’t be a part of my government,” he declared. “My disagreements with its leadership on national and security matters alone are deep, difficult and irreconcilable.”
Since he emerged as the clear loser in a 1999 election debate with Center Party leader Yitzhak Mordechai, Netanyahu has been reluctant to engage in such events, particularly when he is ahead in the polls.
His challenge to Gantz, two weeks before the election, to hold a debate was interpreted by some as a sign of desperation: a last-ditch attempt to narrow the gap between Blue and White and Likud.
Gantz, who had earlier in the campaign advocated a debate, declined Netanyahu’s challenge, describing the offer as “spin” to divert attention from the upcoming corruption trial.
“He cannot handle the pressure of a televised debate, so how can he handle the greater pressure that there is in being prime minister of Israel?,” Netanyahu responded. “Benny Gantz is afraid to come to a debate, because people will see he is not a leader.”
Elections used to create genuine excitement in Israel, but this is no longer the case. Election fever has been replaced by election fatigue. People are dreading the prospect of more deadlock and a fourth election.
It appears that the only genuine prospect of a functioning government is a unity coalition including both Likud and Blue and White, but the last time around the question of who will serve first as prime minister prevented such a scenario.
Blue and White agreed to show flexibility on its commitment not to sit with Netanyahu only if Gantz served first as prime minister and Netanyahu agreed to dismantle the right-wing-haredi bloc, provided he could serve first. Nothing has changed since then.
Even if the deadlock again prompts talk of a unity coalition as a way to break the impasse, the key sticking point remains – Is Netanyahu going to serve first and remain prime minister during his trial or will Gantz serve first and Netanyahu return as premier after his trial is over (assuming  he is acquitted)?
If this cannot be resolved after Round 3, then get ready for Round 4.