It will be torturous for anyone to form a government with the cards the Israeli electorate dealt out on Tuesday.
There are jokers in this hand, and kings and queens and aces, but not enough cards of the same rank or the same suit to come up with a full house or a straight – in other words, to form a government.
But a government must be formed. Israel cannot continue as it has for the last two years, leaping from one election to the next, hoping that this time the result will be different, though knowing that nothing dramatic has changed to make it so.
If Israel goes to an astonishing fifth election, the results will be the same as in the previous four. This is who we are right now: a nation split in two over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The only thing that could, like a magic wand, clear up this political logjam would be either for Netanyahu to voluntarily step down, or for the Likud to show him the door. But neither of those scenarios is going to happen, so it is futile to even factor them in.
It is time for everyone to realize they must deal with the cards they were dealt, and not keep dreaming of a new ace popping up out of nowhere. It is not going to happen.
And what are these cards? Understanding that roughly half of the country is fine with a prime minister who will simultaneously be running the country and defending himself – through his legal team – three times a week in Jerusalem District Court.
Netanyahu’s opponents have tried to convince the public that this is an untenable and undemocratic situation. But they failed, and – as Tuesday’s results indicated – much of the country believes Netanyahu can and should still serve as Israel’s leader.
And the political card Netanyahu must recognize is that he cannot form a coalition with his political allies that will enable him to get immunity. He does not have the numbers. Instead of dragging the nation to yet another election in the hope that he will get those numbers, he now has to move on and realize immunity is not in the offing.
Dealing with the deck the electorate dealt means recognizing compromises will need to be made and deep-seated animosities set aside, so that a functioning government can be formed that is able to lead the country for more than a year. Yes, and campaign promises about not being willing to sit in the same coalition with certain parties and leaders are going to have to be broken.
Neither the pro-Netanyahu camp nor the anti-Netanyahu camp has the numbers alone to form a stable government. And a stable functioning government – the kind Israel so desperately needs – is not one of 61 seats, with that 61st MK holding the entire coalition and country hostage to his or her demands.
This works in both directions – applying to parties on the Center-Left that have said they would not sit with Netanyahu, and parties on the Right that have said they would not sit with Yair Lapid. All will have to show some level of compromise, if Israel is to be able to move on.
Now is the time for the nation’s politicians to genuinely put Israel above all else and form as wide a government as possible, including elements from the Right and the Left, the ultra-Orthodox and the secular, and – for the first time – the Arab sector.
True, the previous government was billed as an emergency unity government. Its problem, though, was more with the execution: a parity government with an equal number of seats for rival blocks, and with political rivals slated to rotate as prime minister. That is a recipe for stalemate.
A sober look at Tuesday’s confounding results dictates that the best solution is a government that brings parties together from across the political aisle, with each party compromising some of its aims. This could be Netanyahu pulling from the Center-Left or Lapid pulling from the Right. Both would be legitimate.
A narrow pro-Netanyahu or anti-Netanyahu government is doomed to quick failure. Given Tuesday’s results, and the need to avoid a fifth election, a unity government is now the call of the hour.