Israel’s longest-serving prime minister received the most votes after the country’s third elections in a year, but forming a government could still be an uphill fight for him.
Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be someone who rises from the ashes when everyone else thinks his time in power is up.
After Monday’s elections, Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister of the Zionist state, marched closer to another election win, in a country which has already faced three inconclusive general elections within a year, garnering the most seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
But his party Likud and its allies are still short of a governing coalition, meaning that Netanyahu needs to reach a compromise with his new nemesis, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party (Kahol Lavan), who has refused to be in a coalition with him after the two previous elections.
A top anonymous member of the Israeli Resilience Party (Hosen L'Yisrael), the main core of the Blue and White forces, which was established by Gantz, denied the possibility.
"The possibility that Hosen L'Yisrael will split off and join Netanyahu is absurd. Gantz could have done it already in the previous round and preferred, making a very difficult decision, to go to another round. He made the principled choice, and so the chances that he would do this now are low," the source told Haaretz.
Without Gantz’s support, Netanyahu has a few options.
One of them is to persuade two or three members of the Gantz party, which is a coalition of different political forces, to join his hardline coalition. According to the latest results, Netanyahu’s coalition appears to net 58 or 59 seats, so he needs two or three more deputies’ support to form a government.
Netanyahu is now trying to engineer defections from the opposing parties.
“I expect that fairly shortly we’ll have the missing votes—one, two or three—from the other side,” said Jonathan Urich, one of Netanyahu’s aides, during a conversation with Israel’s Army Radio.
“Talks are already being held with [parliamentarians] from several parties on the other side. They, just like Blue and White’s voters, understand that Benny Gantz essentially doesn’t have the ability to form a government,” Urich added, appearing confident in the party’s chances of forming a government.
But those targeted members of the Gantz’s coalition deny that they will defect.
Gantz might play on Netanyahu indictment
Gantz’s party received less votes than the previous elections, facing a difficult dilemma to form a government. Gantz needs to convince both the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties in Israel, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, an ultra-nationalist secular party, which flatly rejects to be in a government with the Joint List.
It’s not just Lieberman but also Gantz who does not appear to be ready to participate in a government in which Israeli Arab parties have a say. As a result, Gantz’s chances of establishing a government seem to be slim.
Gantz’s dilemma forces him to resort to other political ways to prevent another Netanyahu government. While Gantz’s coalition has fewer seats than Netanyahu, an anti-Netanyahu bloc is still a majority at Knesset, possibly bidding to play an indictment card. Netanyahu’s trial will begin on March 17.
As a result, Gantz might not have enough seats to lead the country, but he has a majority to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government, using indictment charges against him.
"We'll have a majority in the new Knesset to pass a law preventing a prime minister from serving under indictment," said Nitzan Horowitz, the leader of Meretz, a left-wing party.
"It reflects the will of the public, and it's the moral thing to do," Horowitz added.
But Netanyahu’s allies exactly think the opposite, believing that the elections show that “the will of the public” spoke in favour of the incumbent prime minister despite the fact that he was indicted over several corruption charges.
"Two days ago there were elections and they are already trying to circumvent the will of the people," said the Justice Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina party, which is part of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
Bennett also found the Gantz initiative "anti-democratic", amounting to "spitting in the face of half of the country".
Other Netanyahu allies have also been embarrassed with a possibility that Netanyahu could be prevented from forming another government in the face of indictment charges.
Ultra-orthodox Shas party leader Arye Dery is one of them. “(P)assing a personal-tailored law to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister after the public has expressed its faith [in Netanyahu] is a disgrace and breaking the rules of the political game," Dery said.
"Kahol Lavan is prepared to sacrifice the country and the unity of the nation in favour of their personal hatred for Netanyahu, which unites Lieberman and the Joint List," Dery noted.
If Israeli parties could not agree to form a coalition government, the country will face the fourth elections in a little more than a year.