ANALYSIS: Is Israel Heading to a Third Election?

With very little time remaining to form a government, the gaps between the parties remain large

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Election
Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

More than seven months after the first parliamentary elections in Israel and two months after the Israeli voters went to the polls again to end the deadlock in the formation of a new government, chances are high that the coalition-building process will fail again and that Israel will face its third election within one year.

After caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave back his mandate to form a new government, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Kachol Lavan (Blue and White) party, was tasked with forming a government by President Reuven Rivlin.

Gantz is now almost at the end of the 28-day period, he had under Israeli law to build a workable coalition and it seems that he will not be able to form a majority government either.

The problems Gantz has with cobbling together a coalition are connected to personal issues and not to disagreements on political ones.

Kachol Lavan, a united list of three political parties led by three former chiefs of staff of the Israeli army plus Yair Lapid the leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a future) party, is still striving for a broad Zionist coalition with the Likud party possibly supplemented with Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our house) but without religious parties.

Likud, however, still isn’t ready to break away from the deal it made with all right-wing parties, with the exception of Yisrael Beiteinu, to negotiate as a block. That block won 55 seats in the last election, too little to form a majority government of at least 61 seats.

Likud’s attitude has to do with the right-wing parties’ vow not to demand that Netanyahu should resign if he were to be indicted on alleged corruption charges.

The decision by attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit whether to indict the PM  will definitely not be taken before Wednesday night when Gantz’ mandate expires.

Kachol Lavan, on the other hand, wants Likud to break the alliance with the right-wing parties and also does not wants to guarantee that Netanyahu can stay on whenever he would be indicted.

Moreover, within Kachol Lavan there is still disagreement about the party’s attitude towards Netanyahu.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is the main opponent against the formation of a rotational government that would enable Netanyahu to stay on as Prime Minister and does not want Gantz to include religious parties in the new government either.

Gantz is now talking to Yisrael Beiteinu about the formation of a minority government of Zionist left-wing parties that should be supported by the right-wing party from outside.

Such a government should also be supported from outside by the united Arab parties, and this is a very controversial issue in Israel as well as within Kachol Lavan because of objections by the right-wing Telem list which is part of the newly formed party.

The Arab list consists mainly of anti-Zionists who make no secret of their support for the Palestinian national aspirations and also regularly condemn Israeli military actions against Palestinian terror movements.

This happened inter alia last week when Arab politicians spoke out against the liquidation of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza and the Israeli reaction to the Gaza missile barrages that followed the assassination.

Prime Minister Netanyahu unexpectedly took the floor during a session of the Knesset to highlight the attitude of the United Arab list and said that the formation of a minority government with outside support of the Arabs would be a slap in the face of Israeli soldiers defending the country.

“Another election would be a disaster, but forming a government that would depend on (support from) the Arab parties is an even bigger disaster. It is a historic danger to Israel’s security. It will seriously damage Israel’s security, “the Prime Minister said on Sunday.

“A government that will depend on supporters of Islamic Jihad and Hamas would be historically dangerous,” Netanyahu repeated.

Benny Gantz reacted sharply to Netanyahu’s warnings, but did not deny the discussions about the formation of a government with the support of the Arab parties while he said that he “will do everything to prevent a third election in one year.”

The Kachol Lavan leader called on Netanyahu to come to direct negotiations without “the ‘immunity block’ and without spin and tricks”.

On Sunday evening, the Israeli media reported that significant progress had been made in discussions with Yisrael Beiteinu about what Gantz calls “a transition government” (a minority government with support from the Arab list and Yisrael Beiteinu).

Also on Sunday, Likud decided to hold an emergency meeting on the reported progress in the formation of the minority government where Netanyahu claimed it would be an “existential threat” to Israel.

The Likud emergency meeting could be the first indication that the party considers making a last-minute decision to sit in a government with Kachol Lavan without the right-wing bloc.

On Monday morning, Kachol Lavan sources contradicted the media reports that significant progress had been made in convincing Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman to support a minority government with the Arab parties.

The only option left now seems to be the Likud Kachol Lavan government which would have a majority of 68 seats after the Yamina party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked merged with Likud at the beginning of November.

The move made Likud the largest party in the Knesset again with 35 mandates.

President Rivlin, meanwhile, announced on Sunday evening that he still believes that a the new government can be formed and that the disagreements are not “logical, political or in the interest of the state.”

Kachol Lavan sources, however, are increasingly pessimistic Gantz will succeed after Liberman said a minority government with Arab support would be “a disaster” for Israel.

Liberman is now mediating between Kachol Lavan and Likud in a last ditch effort to establish a national unity government and succeeded to arrange a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu on Tuesday night.

If Gantz is forced to give back his mandate, the Knesset has three weeks to find another candidate capable of putting together a government of at least 61 seats. Chances this would solve the crisis are very slim, however.

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