In the face of another political deadlock, what happens now?

It is time that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admit that Gideon Sa’ar was right when he claimed in the December leadership primaries in the Likud that he must be replaced.

Likud supporters celebrate as the exit polls for Israel's March 2, 2020 elections are announced (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud supporters celebrate as the exit polls for Israel's March 2, 2020 elections are announced
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
I must admit that when I saw Netanyahu and his family celebrating the Likud’s alleged “great victory” in the small hours of Tuesday morning at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, I noticed a certain dissonance between the results of the exit polls (and their initial updates), and Netanyahu’s ecstatic declaration of victory for the right-wing bloc.
True, the Likud reached an impressive result: 36 Knesset seats compared to 32 in the September 2019 elections (while Blue and White remained with 33), and the right-wing bloc went up from 55 to 58, but this can hardly be considered a victory. Yet Netanyahu’s gloating was so convincing that I actually mumbled to myself: “It’s over.” The fact that at the time that Netanyahu began his speech, the early real results showed the Likud with 37 seats and the right-wing bloc with 59 seemed to indicate that the premature celebrations might be justified. But they weren’t.
What Netanyahu didn’t take into account was that the Joint List would end up with 15 seats (five more than in April 2019), and that Avigdor Liberman, with his seven seats, would end up declaring that he would unequivocally join (or support from the outside) a narrow government formed by Gantz, at least for a certain period, so that it would be possible to replace Yuli Edelstein (Likud) as speaker of the Knesset with Meir Cohen (Blue and White), and to pass some legislation that would ensure that an indicted candidate would not be able to form a government after elections (as opposed to enabling an acting prime minister to continue to serve after being indicted).
Despite all these hard facts, and having failed in a shameless publicized effort to get some Blue and White and Labor-Gesher MKs to desert and join a right-religious government, partially by means of muckraking, and partially by means of promises of ministerial posts, Netanyahu still argues that he won the elections. He is doing this by simply insisting that he received more Jewish votes than the Center-Left-Liberman bloc. He argues that the narrow government, which Gantz might form with the support of 62 MKs (not all of them to be members of the coalition) is a “blow to democracy,” since 14 of them are Arabs (the Joint List includes a Jew) “who support terror.”
Netanyahu adds that he, on the other hand, has a majority among the 104 Zionist Jewish MKs (one of Yisrael Beytenu’s MKs is a Druze), even though 15 of his 58 are haredim, who do not serve in the IDF and refuse to accept the equality of women, so that both their Zionist and democratic credentials are a little dodgy. But basically what he is saying is that a legitimate government in Israel requires the support of a Jewish majority, thus justifying Bernie Sanders’s statement from 12 days ago to the effect that Netanyahu is both a reactionary and a racist. Yes he is.
I think it is fair to add that if the celebration of the “Deal of the Century” in Washington; the homecoming of Naama Issachar from a Russian prison; the meeting with the Sudanese leader in Uganda; an intensive personal energizer-bunny style campaign; and the ugliest and most degenerate campaign against the other leading candidate to head Israel’s next government, added only four seats to the Likud, and did not result in 61 seats for the right-religious bloc, it is time that Netanyahu admit that Gideon Sa’ar was right when he claimed in the December leadership primaries in the Likud that Netanyahu must be replaced because he is incapable of winning an election and forming a government.
What happens now?
First of all, we must see whether Netanyahu will turn up at the District Court in Jerusalem in eight days’ time for the opening of his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. An informed guess suggests that Netanyahu will play every delay tactic and dirty trick possible to prevent this from happening.
As to the forming of a government, here there are only three possible options: a national-unity government without Netanyahu; new elections to the 24th Knesset in the summer; and a short-lived narrow government led by Gantz, which would try to achieve a thorough legislative cleanup job before fourth elections next autumn (unless there would be defections from the right-religious bloc to it beforehand).
The job of reversing the results of the Likud’s hate campaign against the Left (including everyone who isn’t pro-Bibi) and the 20% of the Israeli population that is Arab will apparently have to wait until after the elections to the 24th Knesset, even though my personal experiences in the last few weeks lead me to believe that if nothing is done, the situation could deteriorate to violence, and even civil war.
After the September elections the two main hindrances to the establishment of a national-unity government were Netanyahu’s refusal to come to the negotiations without his 55-seat bloc, or to allow Gantz to serve as prime minister for the first two years in a rotation arrangement; and Gantz’s refusal to sit in a government headed by a man facing indictment on three serious charges,
Today, how can Gantz even consider sitting in a government with a man who accuses him of serious mental deficiencies and considers him a pathetic imposter, trying to emulate him (Netanyahu)? A national-unity government is still the most desired sort of government that Israel needs, but the Likud will simply have to “come to.” True, 48% of the voters want Netanyahu to continue to serve as prime minister no matter what, but 52% want the Bibi-era to come to an end immediately, and believe that if Netanyahu remains prime minister he will tear down several additional tiers of Israel’s democratic system – especially those in charge of law enforcement and the upholding of integrity.
Fourth elections in the summer cannot be ruled out, since at the moment it doesn’t seem that Netanyahu is ready to step down, the Likud will consider replacing him, or the legal system will force him to take time out, until such time as he stands trial and is (or is not) exonerated of all the charges against him.
Whether the third option will materialize depends on whether Blue and White will finally decide to start taking action, and will be judicious enough to avoid all the pitfalls on the way to realizing it. It will certainly not be easy. Netanyahu and the Likud will do everything in their power to prevent Blue and White from forming a narrow government, and from managing the very complicated juggling act – involving Labor-Gesher-Meretz, Liberman and the Joint List – required to form it. It is a challenge for the Blue and White cockpit.