Third Israeli elections growing more likely as time running out for Gantz

Gantz has only nine days to put together a coalition before he must return the mandate.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Ultimatums. Recriminations. Bad blood. These characterize the efforts of Israel’s two biggest parties to form a unity government, a likelihood that appears less likely as time goes on. In only nine days, next Wednesday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz must return the mandate he was given to form a government.

Frustrated with the slow pace of talks, Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman warned both Blue and White and Likud that if they don’t come to an agreement, he will punish the guilty party by joining with the other side.

Both Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to meet with Liberman to discuss next steps but neither committed to making the compromises Liberman demanded. Netanyahu also expressed suspicion of Liberman, saying he secretly wants a government based on the Arab vote, yet another example of the distrust that pervades the negotiations.

There are still several options that could come to fruition before time runs out.

Unity government

This is the outcome desired by the majority of Israelis. The sticking points preventing a unity government boil down to two issues: 1) The Likud’s insistence that Netanyahu serve as prime minister first in a rotational government, and; 2) Blue and White’s insistence that the Likud negotiate only as the representative of itself and not of a larger, right-wing bloc that includes a number of other parties.

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However, neither side is willing to compromise on these points. Israel Hayom reports on Monday that one of the reasons that Blue and White’s leaders don’t want to accede to Netanyahu’s demand that he serve first in a shared-leadership government is that they fear he won’t live up to his end of the bargain after his term – likely two years – ends.

A senior adviser to Blue and White says that the leaders are convinced that Netanyahu will come up with some pretext not to honor his agreement.

Minority government

A “minority government” refers to a coalition that doesn’t have a technical majority but is able to govern through tacit approval from Knesset members outside of it. In this case, the Blue and White party would take the reins with the help of Arab parties. Such a government would count 44 Knesset members, and not the minimum majority of 61. It would include Blue and White, Labor and the Democratic Union party.

Supporting it from outside would be the Joint List, a faction of Arab parties. Yet a government resting on anti-Zionist Arab Knesset members makes Israeli voters uneasy. However, this may be changing as an  Army Radio poll on Monday showed a majority (52%) of Blue and White voters in favor of forming a coalition with the Joint List party.

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Another issue making such a government unlikely is that it would need the quiet support of Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu party. Liberman has called the Joint List  a “fifth column” and said it belongs in Ramallah (the seat of the Palestinian Authority) and not in Israel’s Knesset.

Narrow right-wing government

Ynet reports that the possibility of a right-wing government with a narrow majority rests with Liberman. On a Saturday evening news show, he delivered an ultimatum to the two sides, more or less promising to join whichever side was least responsible for failure in the negotiations to form a unity government.

If he determined that Likud was not the guilty party, he could conceivably join. His party’s eight seats would be enough to give Netanyahu a majority of 63 Knesset seats.

However, to do so Liberman would need to break his central campaign promise not to join a government containing haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, elements. A major part of Netanyahu’s coalition are two haredi parties: Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Third elections

This is increasingly looking to be the most likely scenario. With time running out for Gantz to cobble together a coalition, there remains a 21-day option where another candidate can present a government. But such a possibility is not one Israeli pundits are treating seriously.

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Ynet reports that new elections would take place in three months. The possible dates are March 10th or 17th in 2020.

It would be the third election in Israel within a year, the first having been held on April 9, 2019.