Think About It: A third round of elections: who's to blame?

Eventually these questions are bound to come up before the High Court of Justice, which will hopefully unravel the Gordian knot.

IF IT takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act, let it be.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
IF IT takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act, let it be.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the time of writing it is 99% certain that we are going for a third round of elections in less than a year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot form a narrow government because he has been unable to increase his bloc of 55. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz cannot form a narrow government because such a government would have to gain the active support of the Joint List, and the majority of the Jewish population consider this to be treason. A national unity government cannot be formed because neither Netanyahu nor Gantz is willing or able to give up some of their basic demands that are totally unacceptable to the other.
Why did Netanyahu fail for the second time running to form a narrow government? Partially because Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman refused to join a right-wing religious government in which the ultra-Orthodox parties are unwilling to budge on issues such as the enlistment of their men to the army, civil marriage, and public transportation and open stores in secular towns and neighborhoods on the Sabbath, and in which extreme, national-religious messianics are members.
Liberman has no problem with a right-wing political agenda nor with a laissez-faire economic policy, as long as the welfare of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union is not neglected. However, he appears to have a grudge against Netanyahu personally, not because of the charges against him in three cases (he himself escaped justice on worse suspicions under fishy circumstances), but because of the way Netanyahu treated him when he served as Defense Minister. Besides, he has known Netanyahu for several decades and does not trust him.
All other potential additions to Netanyahu’s bloc of 55 – Labor-Gesher and members of Telem within Blue and White – refused to give in to persistent courtship because of the charges against Netanyahu, which is also the main reason that a national unity government with Netanyahu at the head of the Likud could not be realized. Like Liberman, Moshe Ya’alon has a belly full of humiliations by Netanyahu, while Gideon Hauser and Yoaz Handel both have years of experience of working intimately with Netanyahu, and know all his tricks and foibles.
A minority government with the support of the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu – the only sort of narrow government Gantz could have formed – is simply impossible, first of all because, contrary to the most basic principles of democracy, a majority of the Jewish Israeli public consider it to constitute treason, and  because Liberman detests the Arabs even more than he tests the ultra-Orthodox. Sadly, no section of the national religious camp would consider joining a Center-Left government for ideological reasons, while the ultra-Orthodox refuse to join a government that defines itself as secular, and know that they can get away with much more in a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, than any alternative.
As for a national unity government – which I still believe, as I did before the April election, to be the only option that can start healing the divided Israeli society and get our country out of the political crisis it finds itself in – blame here can be placed on both major parties, though I am inclined to place greater blame on Netanyahu than on Gantz.
The reason Netanyahu is to blame is that on the one hand, he is unwilling to admit that a national unity government, in order to have any chance of success, must be based on an agreement between the two major parties as equals, on the goals of such a government and its basic agenda, and on the other hand, his main motive is how to avoid being tried on the charges included in his three indictments – not to try and get Israel back on track. Since Netanyahu himself is largely to blame for Israel having gone off track – especially in terms of its social cohesion, the fortitude of its law enforcement system, and the upholding of the democratic principles on which t is based – bringing Israel back on track is not one of his concerns.
Gantz is to blame because he is unwilling to agree to Netanyahu serving as prime minister while he has three indictments hanging over his head, even though according to Israeli law, a prime minister, unlike an ordinary minister, can remain in office after being indicted, as long as he has not been found guilty in a final court instance. The source of this provision is in the law for the direct election of the prime minister passed in 1992, and it made sense when the prime minister was directly elected, but the provision was not removed after the direct election of the prime minister was canceled in 2001.
Like every person under indictment, Netanyahu is innocent until found guilty. But the question here is not whether he is innocent until found guilty, but whether from a normative point of view, it is befitting that he continue to serve as prime minister under indictment, and this in addition to the question whether serving as prime minister of successive transition governments is the same as serving as prime minister of a permanent government that has received the Knesset’s confidence.
Eventually these questions are bound to come up before the High Court of Justice, which will hopefully unravel the Gordian knot. It was the High Court of Justice that in 1993 laid down the principle, in the cases of Arye Deri and Raphael Pinhasi from Shas, that indicted ministers must be removed from the government, though they can continue to serve as ordinary MKs until found guilty in a final court instance on charges involving turpitude.
Until that happens, the knot remains tied and the most Gantz was willing to consider was that Netanyahu remain prime minister for a limited time period before he takes over, but only under the condition that there are legal provisions to prevent Netanyahu from reneging on the agreement. Gantz, and the rest of Blue and White, simply do not trust Netanyahu, and not without reason.
One may look at the list of explanations and excuses given above for why a third election is inevitable, and ask whether any of them justify another expensive round of elections that are unlikely to bring results much different to those of April and September and whether it is really impossible to get a functioning government without them.
I believe that the establishment of a functioning  national unity government will only be possible without Netanyahu, and that unless Netanyahu decides to leave of his own free will, or either the Attorney-General or the High Court of Justice decide that he must resign, only the Likud can decide that it is time for Netanyahu to go, because he is unable to establish such a government, or any other sort of government, and it is he who prevents anyone else in the Likud from trying to form a government. Gideon Sa’ar tried to get the Likud to do what it needs to do before new elections are held, but Netanyahu blocked him.
So if it takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act: regrettably, let it be.