Alwaght- The battle of the two key rivals for the Israeli prime minister post in the third round ended without an outright winner, making the unprecedented crisis to prevail in the Israeli politics.
There is yet no realistic outlook for either side of the contest to form a majority government independently. Despite the fact that the right-wing Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu won 58 out of 129 seats in the recent elections, it is short of 3 seats for a majority in the parliament that allows it to form a cabinet without the need for a partnership deal with any other party.
Hopes and fears of cabinet formation: Netanyahu, Gantz or neither?
To break the impasse as the last chance to form a right-wing government, Netanyahu hopes to take part of the opposite side’s vote after a recent division inside the centrist Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz over the coalition with the United Arab List (UAL) as the third winner of March 2 general election.
Two members of the Blue and White have come against the idea that their alliance should coalesce with the UAL in the road to new government formation, giving Netanyahu rejuvenated hope about the shattering of the alliance.
In a move deepening the inter-Blue and White division, Minister of Migration and Absorption Yoav Galant accused the former chief of general staff of secretly struggling to replace Gantz as Blue and Write leader as he is unhappy with the Gantz efforts to allay with the UAL. On Sunday, representatives from the eight parties with seats in the Knesset met with President Reuven Rivlin and talked with him about who they endorse as PM. As a result, Gantz was given the mandate to form a government.
But is the 2020 Israeli regime ready to accept the real participation of Arabs in the highest level of power? In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin relied on Arab support to form the government. Will the history repeat itself now? With regard to the realities of Israeli society, we can hardly give yes to them.
Over the past two decades, Israeli society has seen major changes. Until the late 20th century, a majority of the Zionists living in the occupied Palestinian territories were secular as they mainly migrated from Eastern Europe and regions under communist Soviet rule. At the time, leftist parties had a strong presence in the elections. The experience of the Rabin government took place in this period. But now everything has changed, with racist and rightist politics bolstering powerfully. A Washington Post investigation reveals that the Israeli education system is dominated by the hardline Zionists. Racist attacks on Arab citizens have been growing over the past years. A report published in 2019 by Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research affiliated with Israel Democracy Institute said that 50 percent of the Israelis are opposed to Arab parties’ entry to the politics.
The opposition is so strong that even Gantz who claims to be a moderate leader in Israeli politics in public comments on the coalition with the UAL said that this “is not the government we wanted” because to persuade out opponents we have to now coalesce with the Arabs.
However, it is not yet clear if the hardline party of former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman will join the government formation efforts.
Considering this situation, Gantz has no way but arranging a way out of this crisis by attracting the endorsement of the UAL with 15 seats, Lieberman-led Yisrael Beiteinu with 7 seats, as well as Labor-Gesher-Meretz coalition, to beat Netanyahu.
But how could this “magic arrangement” take place with Lieberman and UAL in stark contrast? Perhaps the solution should be found in the comments of Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a partner to White and Blue alliance and the replacement candidate of it. He said recently that the UAL representatives should just give the Gantzs-presented government their votes of confidence and then have no role in the government. This means that the Arab list will be incorporated in a sham coalition to defeat Netanyahu, without any share in the upcoming government, despite their 15 seats. This is something the Arab minority would likely not approve of.
The UAL, comprised of 4 Arab parties, in the twentieth Knesset election showed that it does not intend to stay silent on the day’s important matters or panic from the Israeli reactions. The Arab coalition openly condemned the Arab League blacklisting of Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist group and also rejected to take part in former President Shimon Peres funeral.
The remarks by Lapid may signal that a government is out of sight at least in the near future. Now Tel Aviv should see a Netanyahu-Gantz deal after nearly a year of the political deadlock or it should prepare for a new general election.
Backgrounds for and challenges ahead of Netanyahu-Gantz government
After three parliamentary elections and the ensuing frustration as a result of failure to form a government, the Israeli society is not deeply discontented. Still, the eyes are now on the rays of hope recently appeared as Netanyahu and Gantz seem to be poised to form a unity government after serious Coronavirus outbreak across the occupied territories.
On Thursday, Gantz held a consultation session with his party’s senior members to discuss the formation of a unity government in association with Netanyahu to firmly counter Coronavirus as it spreads fast across the Israeli regime. At least 344 Israelis have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, thousands have been placed in isolation.
Earlier on Thursday, as new health and medical measures were introduced by the health authorities, Netanyahu called for limited-time, “unconditional” emergency government.
“I call for the formation now, even this evening, of a national emergency government. It will be an emergency government for a limited period. Together we will fight to save the lives of citizens,” he added, saying that politics should be put aside.
He said that they should counter the crisis with mutual trust. He in another statement claimed that he personally invited Gantz for talks on government formation.
The two leaders insist that they can form a unity government in the middle of a political battleground that has so far brought the Israelis to the vote three times within a single year. They met on Thursday and Gantz in a statement said that he suggested to his rival immediate meetings of the two sides’ negotiation teams.
But can really the Corona crisis miraculously knock down the political crisis as fast as it does with its human victims?
Before the third election was held in March, President Rivlin had several times pressed both sides of the competition to strike a deal on a new government to steer clear of a third general election in a year. Gantz rejected the push as he hoped that the Netanyahu trial because of his and his wife's corruption and also the end of his judicial immunity will hit hard his popularity and thus the votes will go to Blue and White in a new election and the alliance can form a cabinet without Likud.
Even now Gantz does not seem to be interested to form a coalition government. Netanyahu’s indictment was officially handed to the court in late January and he is expected to stand trial on March 17. His trial may take years to conclude in a verdict. Gantz knows well that currently the safest place for Netanyahu to gain immunity against the legal prosecution is the PM office. So, any agreement can save his life fountain for his political future.
From another aspect, the coalition government suggestion in addition to prolonging the government formation process will allow Netanyahu to deepen the division among UAL, Lieberman, and Gantz. Netanyahu also made the emergency cabinet suggestion amid Coronavirus crisis to paint himself a champion of responsibility in the Israeli politics as the Israeli citizens expect the authorities to take measures to control the epidemic and put aside their political differences. Should the suggestion be rejected by Gantz, the Blue and White leader should deal with negative consequences as it will provide Netanyahu with propaganda material.
So, despite reluctance to form a government with Netanyahu, Gantz said that the White and Blue welcomes common battle against the spread of Coronavirus. “As we have so far done, we will do more then. We responsibly discuss the formation of a national emergency government,” he was quoted as saying.
All in all, Netanyahu has concluded that Gantz rejects a coalition government. So, the only paths are either stepping down of Netanyahu as the obstacle ahead of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu unity or dissolving the Knesset and announcing a new snap election, which means sinking in even more intricate political deadlock.