Prime Minister Netanyahu – Down, but not out!

In an uncharacteristic move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday (Monday, 21 October, 2019), in essence, “I can’t do it”. He was, of course, referring to his inability to fulfil the mandate that he received from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, to form a new government. He returned the mandate to Rivlin, thus paving the way for  Kahol Lavan (Blue White) leader, Benny Gantz, to carry the baton to the finish line – if he can. This is the first time in almost a dozen years that Netanyahu will not be the number one figure in the government. Netanyahu had two more days before his deadline would expire, but he opted to end his efforts at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also his 70th birthday.

As of tomorrow, the ball will be in the court of Benny Gantz, who will be given 28 days to succeed where Netanyahu could not. Gantz is a former IDF Chief of Staff and two of his campaign running mates were former IDF Generals. The third co-leader of Kahol Lavan is Yair Lapid, whose involvement with that party causes it to swing left of center.

At the end of the 28-day period, if Gantz also fails to form a coalition government, the door will be open for an additional period of 21 days during which any Member of Knesset can try to get the consensual support of a majority of at least 61 Knesset members, which would allow him to try to form a government. If that period runs out and no government is formed, another election will be the next step – the third one within a year.

Very little changed from the time of the first election in May and the second election in September. Neither the Likud (Netanyahu’s party) nor Kahol Lavan came anywhere close to getting a majority in the Knesset. Even with the support of other parties, neither of the two front runners could obtain the majority needed to form a stable coalition government. The person that could make the difference for either party is Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) party. 

Politics always makes for strange bedfellows. But, this time, major issues and personality disputes take the stage:

Lieberman wants a broad-based coalition government made up of Likud, Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu only. He doesn’t want any of the smaller parties to be involved in the government, such as the religious (who side with Netanyahu) and the leftist groups (who are part of the Gantz bloc), which groups, from a numerical point of view, also include the Joint Arab List. President Rivlin will formally announce tomorrow that he is giving the mandate to Benny Gantz. Avigdor Lieberman’s party has already expressed that it’s position has not changed and that it is not willing to recommend either of the above two parties to form a government. For Israel Beitenu, it’s not a matter of who will lead the government, but what will be the policies of the government that would be established.

Netanyahu arranged for the right wing parties to negotiate as a bloc in the formation of a coalition government, so he has the backing of the religious and rightist factions in any potential negotiations with Kahol Lavan. They are expected to be loyal to Netanyahu, as long as he remains loyal to them and does not try to become part of a Gantz-led government without them. 

Gantz does not want to consider including Netanyahu in a coalition government, if Netanyahu will be indicted on any of the pending charges against him. But, if the charges against Netanyahu would be dropped or watered down, Gantz might become flexible and be willing to form a government that includes Netanyahu and even work out an appropriate rotation plan with him to serve as Prime Minister. At this point, both Netanyahu and Gantz want to have the first rotation as Prime Minister. The co-leaders of Kahol Lavan may not agree to be part of a government that allows Netanyahu to continue to serve as Prime Minister, even on a rotation basis. 

Then there is the Joint Arab List to consider. At first, they did not want to be in any coalition government led by former IDF Generals. But, politics being what it is, they could do an about face and try to seize the opportunity not only to get rid of Netanyahu as Prime Minister, but also to try to get positions in the non-Netanyahu-led government, with the hope of causing disruption and damage to the nation of Israel as a Jewish, Democratic state. 

There are other areas of disagreement, particularly between Kahol Lavan and the ultra-orthodox parties, which include, among other things, matters relating to public transportation and operating businesses on Shabbat. Neither side has been willing to budge on its position regarding these matters.

At this time, it would appear that Gantz’s opportunity to form a government is slim. Still, we need to keep in mind that there are all kinds of mix-and-match political scenarios that could develop, including the formation of a “minority government” that would have the support of the Joint Arab List – a highly unlikely event, as well as Lieberman’s party. Netanyahu and Gantz could come to various kinds of agreement with one another. There is still the possibility of the free-for-all 21-day period when any Knesset Member can take a shot at getting a majority of other MKs to back him to form a coalition government. These possibilities, and others, are food for thought for the fertile mind.

A third round of elections looms large on the horizon. This is not good for the country. It is an expensive process. It could well cause the general population to feel that the results would not be much different the third time around, unless the issues and front-runners change. This, in turn, could lead to a serious reduction in the number of votes that would be cast for both the Likud and Kahol Lavan, with an increase in the number of votes for the right-wing and left-wing parties. In other words, the next government could have an increase in the influence of extremist parties, with expected consequences.

But, more significantly, a third round of elections would continue to leave us with an interim government, one that is unable to pass legislation until a new government is formed. Among the problems that would be generated is the absence of an operating budget for 2020 and the resultant governmental paralysis that could impact the entire population. The only one who could actually benefit from a third round of elections wold be Prime Minister Netanyahu, who would remain as Prime Minister for another six months and who could possibly get another opportunity to form a coalition government.

In short, nobody can say with any degree of certainty what will happen in the next month and a half. If a government is formed, we don’t know who the participants will be. If it is not formed, we will be facing some difficult days ahead. What can be said about all this? Just “Oy!” and, for emphasis “Oy, oy, oy!”

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. (Psalm 33:12)

It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

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