Benjamin Netanyahu must resign if he fails to form a government

If he resigns, Netanyahu will prove to his critics his interests are that of the Jewish state and the history books will judge him as one of Israel’s greatest political figures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, February 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, February 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Recent public-opinion polls indicate there is a high likelihood Israel will face a fourth election round. On the one hand, the right-wing bloc led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which includes the Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism, receives 56 seats in the polls. Thus, the possibility that this bloc will win a majority of the 61 Knesset seats to form a government is almost impossible.
On the other hand, the center-left bloc led by Benny Gantz, which includes Blue and White and Labor-Gesher-Meretz, with the peculiar political collaboration with Yisrael Beytenu – whose leader Avigdor Liberman’s only goal is to end Netanyahu’s political career – receives only 50 seats in the polls. In a simple account, without the support (whether from within or outside the government) of the Joint List, which receives 14 seats in the polls, Gantz has no real option to form a government. In any case, this scenario is unlikely, due to Liberman’s consistent opposition – and to some extent also by Gantz – that the next government rely on the support of the Joint List. In practice, the statements of the latter’s representatives, condemning Israel and praising Palestinian terrorism, only prevent any option of Jewish-Arab partnership and coexistence, both within and outside the government.
In this situation, two realistic options remain. The first is the establishment of a national-unity government, which is opposed by Blue and White due to Netanyahu’s indictments. The second is the forming of a right-wing government with Yisrael Beytenu, yet Liberman rejects sitting in any government with ultra-Orthodox parties.
Following the impasse imposed on the State of Israel, which has been in a political limbo over the last year without a functioning government, someone in the political area will have to be responsible by putting Israel’s favor ahead of their own personal political ideology and interests.
On the one hand, despite Liberman’s political zigzag, from being a right-wing politician who called for both bombing the Aswan Dam in Egypt and denying citizenship to Arab-Israelis to becoming the secular public’s defender against the ultra-Orthodox parties, he is not a major player anymore in the formation process of the government. In practice, a unity government of Blue and White and Likud can be formed without Liberman, whose party receives seven seats in the polls and may very well end the March elections with fewer. Thus, while Liberman is trying to sell to the public that Yisrael Beytenu is an essential part in forming a unity government, the reality proves otherwise. In the end, whether he will decide to join a right-wing government with the ultra-Orthodox parties headed by Netanyahu or if he continues to oppose the option, a new government will be able to manage without him.
On the other hand, although Gantz is also responsible for the fact that the State of Israel is going to the polls for the third time in less than a year, as he continues to oppose sitting in a national unity government with Netanyahu, the Blue and White chairman’s demand is not detached from reality. Despite the law that allows a prime minister to continue to serve under indictment, the norm in Israel expects Netanyahu to resign from office. Although public support also plays a major role in that situation (prime minister Ehud Olmert was so unpopular at the time of his resignation his party, Kadima, received only 10 seats at the polls), Olmert eventually resigned, as was expected from him. Yet, it is fair to note that it is difficult to know what Olmert would have done had Kadima been given 33 seats in the polls. In any case, even though Netanyahu’s resignation, which would leave Likud without a popular leader, will probably serve Gantz’s political interest, the latter’s demand is totally acceptable. This time it seems the person who has successfully served the State of Israel longer than any other person in its history will be the one who will have to act with a national responsibility.
Despite the indictments against him, Netanyahu is a good prime minister who has done and is doing a lot for the State of Israel. There is no doubt that the Israelis have been blessed with a man who, despite the criticism for dividing the Israeli society and his alleged policy of a peace refusal with the Palestinians, has successfully led Israel to many achievements. However, if after the upcoming March elections, he will be unable to form a government again, Netanyahu must draw conclusions. In essence, given his imminent trial, which is likely to end in his conviction and therefore will prevent him from continuing to serve in his position, and due to his long period in office (almost three terms in an American count), it will be better for Netanyahu to show responsibility and resign. Thus, a unity government under a new prime minister (not necessarily Benny Gantz) will be established, and will be able to lead the Jewish state in the important challenges that are expected in the coming years, especially with regard to the unilateral implementation of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, a move that requires national unity in the people.
If, after the March elections, Netanyahu is unable to form a government again it would be better for him to step down from the public arena in favor of establishing a national-unity government. As a result, Netanyahu will prove to his critics his interests are that of the Jewish state and the history books will judge him as one of Israel’s greatest political figures.
The writer is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales.