Israel's political catastrophe

In practice, three major players are responsible for this political catastrophe

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beteynu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beteynu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The elections to the Knesset will take place in March 2020, after efforts to establish a government in Israel were unsuccessful again. Thus, this will be the third time in less than a year that Israeli citizens will go to vote. There is no doubt that these elections are a black spot for the Israeli political system, whose heads failed to bridge their ideological, political, and personal gaps and therefore failed to join hands in forming a government.
In practice, three major players are responsible for this political catastrophe:
The first culprit is Benjamin Netanyahu. Although Israeli law allows Netanyahu to continue in office until the court decides on his sentence, the public norm states that Netanyahu should suspend himself as long as his trial is being conducted. Additionally, there is no doubt that the prime minister of Israel – one of the world’s most intense and difficult positions – should be focused  on his role rather than on his trial.
In this situation, there may be a conflict of interest, even if outwardly, between the wishes of the prime minister to survive in office and between important decisions that he must make during his tenure. In order to prevent these unnecessary elections in March 2020, it would have been better for Netanyahu, who has been in the prime minister’s office for more than a decade, to step aside and allow someone else from the Likud to form a unity government with Blue and White, whose leaders oppose sitting in the government under a prime minister under indictment. Yet, Netanyahu favored his political survival and he is therefore, a full partner in this political failure.
The other culprit is Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who failed to show leadership in his party by choosing not to form a unity government with the Likud. Despite the refusal of Blue and White leaders to sit in a government under an indicted prime minister, according to Israeli law, Netanyahu can continue to hold office. Thus, as long as the law is not changed, Gantz and Blue and White could sit in a unity government headed by Netanyahu until his judgment is decided in court.
In addition, Gantz’s demand to be the first in the rotation agreement between him and Netanyahu is unnecessary political pettiness, which seems to have been aimed to thwart the establishment of a unity government with the Likud. Although White and Blue won by one more mandate than the Likud, 33 versus 32 respectively, 55 Knesset members recommended Netanyahu for the post of prime minister while only 54 gave their support to Gantz. More so, the logical decision is that Netanyahu – who has been in the prime minister’s position for more than a decade and hence he is more experienced in the post – would be the first in a rotation agreement with Gantz, who, despite being chief of staff has never even served as a minister.
THUS, IT SEEMS that Gantz and his colleagues in Blue and White have done everything possible to prevent Netanyahu from sitting in the prime minister’s chair. To prevent the unnecessary elections in March 2020, Gantz could have acknowledged the complicated political reality, and sit in a unity government under Netanyahu for the first two years of a rotation between them. In refusing to do so, he is a full partner to the current political tragedy.
The third culprit is Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who despite his declarations that third elections are a disaster for Israel, he refrained from joining a government headed by neither Netanyahu nor Ganz. Liberman, who nearly doubled his power in the September election, from five to nine seats, gained support because of his statements that he would work to establish a unity government. However, the establishment of a unity government is not dependent on Yisrael Beytenu but on the two major parties.
Hence, in a situation where the establishment of a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White was no longer a viable option, and due to the fact that Liberman’s impact on the forming of a unity government was virtually nil, he could have joined the right-wing government led by Netanyahu. On the one hand, Liberman’s refusal – who has traditionally belonged to the right-wing bloc since his entry into politics two decades ago – to join a center-left wing government (supported by the Arab parties) led by Gantz is understandable and even justified.
On the other hand, Liberman’s refusal to join a right-wing with the ultra-Orthodox parties raises many questions. Liberman, who recently became the protector of the secular public, forgot that he had been sitting together with the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu governments in 2009-2013 and in 2016-2018. At the time, he knew how to cooperate with the ultra-Orthodox parties and did not necessarily protect the rights of the secular public in Israel.
Thus, Liberman’s decision not to join the right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, which would have prevented third elections, appears to be purely for personal political reasons with the aim of damaging Netanyahu. His recent call to grant Netanyahu a pardon in exchange for his departure from the political system only enhances this argument. Therefore, Liberman is a full partner in the unnecessary elections forced upon the citizens of Israel.
In conclusion, according to the recent polls, there is almost no change in the balance between the blocs, and thus a unity government or a right-wing government are the only two viable options for forming a government. Israeli politicians need to show national responsibility by putting their personal and political interests long after the political interests of Israel. The country needs a functioning government and an end to being in a political limbo. Barring this, a September 2020 elections seems to be a reasonable option.
Christian Kaunert is a professor of policing and security, director of the International Center for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, and holds the Jean Monnet Chair of EU counter-terrorism.
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of South Wales.