Gantz has been given a mandate to cultivate support from several political parties and form a government within the next 26 days, a gigantic task Netanyahu failed to achieve.

Israel held re-elections on September 17 2019, an extraordinary moment as the country has never before held more than one election in a year.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister of Israel, emerged victorious in five elections held between 2009-2019.

But as the latest election in September threw up a fractured mandate, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a coalition government. Netanyahu’s Likud Party-led coalition won 32 seats, while his rival Benny Gatz’s Blue and White won 33 of 120.

Final Israeli election results
Final Israeli election results (Enes Danis / TRTWorld)

On October 21 2019, Netanyahu however announced that he'd like to return the “mandate” to Rivlin. 

“During the past few weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, every effort to prevent another election," he said. 

 "To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused."

Two days later, Blue and White Party leader Gantz received the mandate from the president which gives him 28 days to form a new government.

Israeli politics and election process

Israeli politics has two dimensions: leftists and rightists. The leftists are divided between Center-Left Alliance (Centrist Blue and White, centre-left Labor, the left-wing Democratic Union), and the Arab minority’s Joint List.

The right-wing grouping has two factions: one comprises a mix of Netanyahu’s Likud, Shas and United Torah Judaism; the other led by Otzma Yehudit, which could not get enough votes to win a seat in the parliament. 

The coalition government that ended in December 2018 decided to hold an election in April 2019. There was a major rivalry between Netanyahu, who was backed by the right-wing parties, and Gantz, who exuded the confidence of winning the elections with the support of centre-left parties.

Despite Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White winning 35 parliamentary seats in the April elections, right-wing parties won more in total. Short of numbers, Netanyahu was then tasked by the president to form a new government.

Selim Han Yeniacun, an expert on Israel and a research assistant at Shanghai University, told TRT World that Netanyahu relied on the "personalisation of politics," which means personality-driven politics, and it did not pay off this time. 

"He made efforts to increase his authority, playing up security politics and proposing ambitious foreign policy vision. The delay in forming a new government finally worn him out," he said.

Apart from that, Yeniacun said, the corruption allegations against him and his wife, accompanied by investigations, dealt a major blow to his reputation. 

Although initially it seemed easy for Netanyahu to stitch together a government after the April elections, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of another right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu,

withdrew his support from the embattled prime minister, ending the possibility of him leading the country for a fifth consecutive term. 

As a result, Netanyahu forced the parliament to repeat the election. 

According to Yeniacun: “The populist arguments of Netanyahu isolated even the right bloc as he tried to appease extremist religious groups in terms of military issues, which forced secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman to disengage with him." 

Netanyahu and Lieberman in 2016
Netanyahu and Lieberman in 2016 (Sebastian Scheiner / AP)

While the Israeli public grew increasingly disillusioned with Netanyahu's leadership, Lieberman received a boost in his popularity. 

"His anti-Netanyahu stance helped him double his vote-share in September elections,” Yeniacun said. 

Netanyahu gives in

Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, told TRT World: "[Many in] the Israeli, Jewish electorate have viewed Netanyahu as a reliable and stable leader for over a decade, supporting his economic and military policies." 

Loewenstein argued that although a significant number of people want him gone, Netanyahu has "successfully created Trump-like denials to an artform, alleging that all allegations against him are conspiracies”.

While Netanyahu continues to be at the losing end, Yeniacun said, Gantz is emerging as a decisive politician. “In last two elections, Gantz performed very well and he appears to be the most reliable leader. He waited for Netanyahu to fail, especially after the prime minister forced the parliament to repeat the elections.”

Some experts speculate that Netanyahu's decision to give up on negotiating with the opposition to form a government could be a tactical retreat, since the ball now remains in Gantz's court. 

“It would be easier to negotiate with Gantz after his potential failure at forming a government. And it's possible the buck will be passed onto another leader while Israel remains leaderless,” said Yeniacun.

The fate of Gantz and Israel Politics

Gantz will need to persuade smaller political groups in order to put together a ruling alliance.  

Otherwise, Lowenstein said: “If Gantz fails to form a coalition, a likely outcome is a third election in the space of one year to be held in early 2020.” 

Based on this scenario, it is anticipated that the right-wing will be reshaped as it will need to reunite and bring peace to the bloc before heading into the 2020 elections.

According to Yeniacun: “Before 2020 elections, if Netanyahu will be found guilty of corruption, Likud will have enough time to prop up another leader and take place in National Unity Government.”

Source: TRT World