Likud’s offer to go into opposition defused the power-sharing – or else – ultimatum Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman put before the two leading parties on Saturday, Nov. 9. He failed to break the deadlock persisting since the last election granted neither of the two leading parties, incumbent Likud or contender Kahol-Lavan, the requisite numbers for forming a government. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu tried his hand first – and failed. Benny Gantz must this week prove he can make it. Hoping to break the impasse, Lieberman, whose small party offers the missing votes, announced that if either Netanyahu or Ganz rejects his terms for a unity government, he would back his rival in forming a government.
Likud’s refusal to play Lieberman’s game, opting rather to go into opposition, along with its allies, the 55-member right-wing-religious bloc, disarmed the ultimatum and put Gantz on the hot plate.
With time running out for his candidature, the Kahol Lavan leader has three immediate options:
- He could go for a minority coalition government, relying on the backing of the Arab Joint List. Even if Lieberman joins this lineup, it would be too fraught with contradictions to survive for any length of time. The pitfalls are obvious: Would the Arab lawmakers vote for the defense budget (which with the state budget is hanging fire during the transition period)? Conversely, would a majority in the House vote for an Arab bill endorsing the Israeli Arab community’s espousal of a Palestinian state?
- The Kahol Lavan leader could go for a unity government on the lines proposed by President Reuven Rivlin, with the premiership rotating between Gantz and Netanyahu and an incapacity clause allowing the former to take over if the prosecution proves its corruption case against the latter. For Netanyahu to accept this plan, he would be required to abandon the allies of his 55-member bloc, while Gantz would have to part company with Yair Lapid’s “Future” faction, one of the four-man party leadership. Lapid is dead against a partnership with Netanyahu in any shape or form.
- Gantz could throw in the sponge, in which case the short-lived Knesset would announce another general election, the third in a year.
While a unity government is held out as the only desirable cure-all for the rift besetting Israel’s political landscape – particularly at a time of acute security challenges – it is something of misnomer. The animosities, personal and political, among the prospective partners run too deep for long-term cohabitation – especially under rotating premiers.
But meanwhile, the major destabilizing factor persists of the unresolved criminal allegations hanging over Netanyahu’s head, so long as Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit’s does not make his mind up about which would stand up in court before filing indictments, and whether they include corruption or only lesser charges. While waiting for a decision, these allegations serve the prime minister’s opponents as ammunition for attempts to kill him dead as a political leader, while Netanyahu and his followers go to unforeseen lengths to fight back and discredit his accusers, including the police and state prosecutors.
Until this affair is resolved one way or another and Netanyahu finally gets his day in court, Israel can look forward to a period of prolonged political instability that lurches from one impasse to the next.