Do what’s right

After the election on September 17, Netanyahu recognized that with Likud one seat shy of Blue and White there was a greater chance that Benny Gantz would be tasked with forming the next coalition.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until Thursday before the mandate he was given last month to form a coalition needs to be returned to President Reuven Rivlin. With the few days left – including tomorrow, which is Simhat Torah – Netanyahu needs to do everything possible to succeed and that includes, first and foremost, ridding himself of his right-wing bloc.
After the election on September 17, Netanyahu recognized that with Likud one seat shy of Blue and White there was a greater chance that Benny Gantz would be tasked with forming the next coalition. In addition, in the event that the only option would be a unity government, Gantz, with that extra seat, would be able to lay claim to serving as prime minister first, something Netanyahu could not allow.
The order of who serves first in the event of a rotation is not set in law and is based on the outcome of the negotiations between the different sides. Nevertheless, it does have a precedent. In 1984, after national elections, there was political deadlock. Labor won 44 seats and Likud won 41. Left with no choice but a unity government, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir agreed to split the premiership. Peres, who had more seats, went first. Shamir, who had three fewer, went second.
Based on that precedent, Gantz has a legitimate argument to make that the largest party is the victor and therefore its leader should serve – in a unity government – as the first prime minister. To prevent that from happening, immediately after the election Netanyahu aligned himself with Yamina and the haredi Shas and UTJ parties, asking their leaders to sign letters of allegiance to him that they would stick by Likud no matter what.
As a result, when the Likud came to the coalition talks with Blue and White, Netanyahu claimed to have a bloc of 55 seats, far more than Blue and White’s 33 seats, and demanded that he be the first prime minister. Until now, the tactic has not worked. Gantz has refused to fold and instead has consistently called for Likud to come negotiate with Blue and White – one party across the table from the other. Once the guidelines for the next government are set, Gantz has said, both parties can invite all of the rest as long as they accept the foundational guiding principles.
This makes sense and whether you like Gantz or not, want him as prime minister or not, his party did beat Likud in the number of votes in the last election. Based on the 1984 precedent, he should be the first to serve as prime minister in a unity government. It is possible that Gantz would forfeit that right, but Netanyahu would still need to first step away from the bloc.
Netanyahu’s reasoning for not accepting this is due to his personal legal troubles. He wants to be prime minister when he is indicted and does not want to be just another minister. As prime minister, he has a better chance of fighting the indictment and winning, if not in court, then at least in the court of public opinion.
Netanyahu and Gantz have a responsibility that goes above and beyond their own personal legal or political troubles. There is a country that needs to be run and there is a nation that needs to be protected.
Looking at the last few weeks – the US withdrawal from Syria, the Iranian attack against Saudi Arabia, the arrest of an Israeli woman in Russia, the violence against Palestinian farmers in the West Bank – there are plenty of challenges for any government.
With winter around the corner, someone needs to take charge of the hospitals and work, now, to reduce waiting times in emergency rooms across the country. The level of education in Israeli schools is deteriorating and someone needs to lay down a master plan that will lead to more effective integration of haredim and Arabs in the workforce and national service programs.
Politics might be a game for some politicians, but it is not a game for the 9 million citizens of this country. Netanyahu has a few days left before he returns the mandate. We urge him to use them wisely.