President Rivlin’s decision to bring Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz together to see if a Government of National Unity can be formed makes sense in the extraordinary situation that has followed Israel’s elections on 17 September.
Once again neither the Left nor Right wing blocs have won the 61 seats required to form Government.
Rivlin’s proposal however could well founder on the aspirations of Netanyahu, Gantz and Yair Lapid to be the Prime Minister of any such Government and whether that position should be rotated and in what order. During the April 2019 election campaign – Gantz and Lapid ran under a rotation agreement that would have seen Gantz serve as prime minister for the first two years and eight months whilst Lapid took over for the remainder of the term.
Their agreement was key to the merger of Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party with Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party to form the Blue and White Party. In June 2019 Gantz and Lapid pledged they would keep their deal to rotate the premiership if they formed the next government after the September elections.
Now – after those inconclusive elections – Lapid has made this call at a Blue and White faction meeting:
"One person is preventing the formation of a liberal unity government. One person. When faced with the choice between what’s important for the country and what’s important for one person, the country comes first."Lapid was obviously referring to Netanyahu.
Is Lapid prepared – in the same spirit – to give up his entitlement to be Prime Minister to enable Gantz and Netanyahu to thrash out an agreement?
After that major problem is settled – agreement on policies and infighting for positions in that Government would be fraught with personal rivalries and ambitions.
Paradoxically the election results have broken the April-deadlock that prevented Netanyahu and Liberman forming a Government with Netanyahu as its Prime Minister. The same problems of allocating portfolios in their 63 member coalition would remain – but would be far easier than dealing with 99 members in a coalition of National Unity. Bridging the Netanyahu-Lieberman antipathy divide wouldn’t be easy either.
Liberman’s party did not form Government with 60 other members of the Right last April after Netanyahu refused to accept a bill drafted by Liberman calling for ultra-orthodox Jews to do military service. Netanyahu was captive to the ultra-orthodox Jews comprised in the Right bloc who threatened to bolt if he wavered. Liberman’s continuing insistence that his military service bill be legislated was countered by United Torah Judaism MK Yakov Asher declaring this the best possible get-out-the-vote campaign the religious parties could wish for.
The religious parties failed big time.
Netanyahu is now in an easier political position to agree to Liberman’s demand than he was in April – the latest voting results showing:
1. Liberman’s vote increased from 173004 to 309688 – an increase of 136684.
2. The combined votes of the religious parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – increased from 507324 to 598522 – an increase of only 91198.
3. Likud’s vote decreased from 1140370 to 1111535 – a drop of 28835The turnout of ultra-orthodox voters opposing Liberman’s bill did not match the turnout of new voters supporting Liberman’s bill and those Likud voters changing their votes for possibly the same reason. The religious parties are now on far weaker ground to oppose Liberman’s reform as they are locked in to a single negotiating bloc containing 55 members - presumably acting by majority vote.
Cutting a deal between Netanyahu and Liberman remains an option to prevent Israel going through this electoral agony for a third time if Rivlin’s call fails.
Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones” — one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades. His cartoons can be viewed at Drybonesblog