Think about it: The political imbroglio

Almost everyone admits that the option of a narrow government, or even a minority government, doesn’t really exist.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet to discuss possible political frameworks, October 27 2019 (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet to discuss possible political frameworks, October 27 2019
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Hearing Benny Gantz’s speech last Thursday, after he had received the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to form Israel’s 35th government, was a soothing experience.
It was not a brilliant speech, Gantz read it from the writing, and few really believe that it represented “the dawn of a new day.” It was soothing because for the first time in 10 years it was not Benjamin Netanyahu who was delivering the speech, and one was reminded that Netanyahu is not the be all and end all of Israel’s existence.
Almost everyone admits that the option of a narrow government, or even a minority government, doesn’t really exist. Netanyahu’s 55-member bloc – as solid as it may seem – is simply not enough.
Many members of this right-wing-religious bloc claim that what prevents the bloc from reaching its “true” size – 63 – is Avigdor Liberman’s caprices. They are unwilling to recognize that one might be right-wing and have major reservations about the aspirations and conduct of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and most of the National-Religious parties; that one might be right-wing and a liberal, or believe that Netanyahu’s conduct has become increasingly unbearable, and that he has become a liability, and possibly even a danger to Israel’s future as a democracy. Liberman is not necessarily all of these, but many of his voters in the last election are.
Hopes in the Likud that it might be possible to fortify the 55-member bloc with Labor-Gesher’s six Knesset seats, and/or several deserters from Blue and White were dashed, both after the April and the September elections.
No one required any of the 65 elected MKs, or the five parliamentary groups in the 22nd Knesset, that are not members of Netanyahu’s bloc to sign declarations of allegiance to Gantz as their only candidate for prime minister. They simply don’t want another malfunctioning, ill-run right-wing-religious coalition, with Netanyahu at its head.
This does not mean that Gantz can count on these 65 MKs to enable him to form a government. Liberman refuses to sit in a government with the haredi and part of the National-Religious parties, but also refuses to sit in a government with the Joint List and with the Democratic Union – just in a national-unity government with the Likud and Blue and White.
Theoretically, Blue and White could establish a minority government, supported by the Joint List from outside, and with Yisrael Beytenu staying away from the plenum when the vote of confidence in this government takes place (there would be 57 ayes, 55 nays and eight absentees). Those who favor such a scenario say that even if this government will not survive for more than several weeks, it would oust Netanyahu from the premiership, and leave Gantz as acting prime minister until the third round of elections, by which time Netanyahu might be indicted.
However, even though Netanyahu fears such a scenario, it is not really realistic. In the first place, the three members of Balad in the Joint List refuse to support such a government. Secondly, it would be suicidal for Gantz, since regrettably, a majority among Israeli Jews view a government dependent on the Arab parties, even from outside the coalition, as tantamount to an act of treason.
ALL THIS leads to the conclusion that only a national-unity government can get Israel out of its political imbroglio. Many, both on the Right and the Left, state that the people voted for such a government. No it didn’t. It voted in a way that leaves no other option except such a government. Pure logic says that if that is the situation, Blue and White and the Likud have no other option but to negotiate a unity or emergency government, with or without other parties as members of the coalition. The current complicated security situation adds strength to this argument. It sounds simple, but it isn’t.
From Netanyahu’s side the main problem is that no matter what sort of government is formed, he wants to ensure that it will protect him from standing on trial should the attorney-general decide to indict him, or enable him to continue to serve as prime minister until such time as there is a final verdict.
Right after the September election, in his proposal for a national-unity government, Rivlin concocted an imaginative constitutional solution to this problem, suggesting that in such a government, which would necessarily include rotation in the premiership, even in the period when Netanyahu will not be prime minister, but only deputy prime minister, he will not be forced to resign, as any ordinary minister in the same situation would be forced to do.
But Netanyahu also insists on going into negotiations on the formation of a national-unity government in the name of all 55 members of his bloc, after they were forced to sign a declaration to the effect that they would not enter negotiations with Blue and White on their own.
The Likud feigns innocence when it argues that Blue and White need not be concerned by this ploy, since it is being offered parity in the makeup of the government, and that just as the Likud will share the ministries allotted to it with its partners, so Blue and White can bring along its own partners and share its ministries with them.
Why do I say “feign innocence”? Because unless the Likud and Blue and White alone will lay down basic policy guidelines for the government before enabling other parties to join the coalition on the basis of these guidelines, Blue and White will be unable to pass many of the legislative amendments and reforms that it promised its voters, because of opposition by the haredi and National-Religious parties, and this after it would have already compromised on many of them in negotiations with the Likud.
In general, one gets the feeling that Netanyahu considers Blue and White not a legitimate, equal partner, but, rather, a momentary mishap that he must bear for a while, even though Blue and White received the same number of seats as the Likud in the April elections, and one more than the Likud in the September elections. Apparently, Netanyahu really believes that a third round of elections will miraculously change the political balance in Israel, and that he will finally attain a right-religious bloc of at least 61 Knesset seats.
Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that he will make any sort of effort to enable the formation of a national-unity government under Gantz.
Two sets of developments might change the balance in the current deadlock. The first is a decision by the attorney-general to indict Netanyahu, including a charge of bribery in Case 4000, followed by a move within the Likud to prevent a third round of elections, for fear that it will further weaken the party, which will invariably lead to the formation of a national-unity government. The second is a decision by the attorney-general to drop all the charges against Netanyahu, followed by a decision by the Likud to opt for third elections, which might well lead to yet another right-wing-religious government.
All Gantz can do at the moment is act in a statesmanlike manner, speak in the same mild, conciliatory tone as when he spoke last Thursday, and do his best to avoid tactical mistakes.