Benny Gantz’s mandate to form the next government expires tonight at midnight. President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday rejected Gantz’s request for a two-week extension, leaving Israelis to wonder if they will ever get a new government.
After three elections, “Blue and White” chief Benny Gantz still can’t form a coalition. And while 61 Members of Knesset initially backed him for the task, only 21 of those remain on Gantz’s side after he broke up the “Blue and White” list (which also included the centrist parties Yesh Atid and Telem) to try for an emergency national unity government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While Israel has fared fairly well in its battle with the coronavirus, it has done so with one hand tied behind its back to the lack of an official government for the past year. Gantz and Netanyahu continue to meet in light of the seriousness of the situation, but latest reports suggest they are no closer to a unity deal.
At midnight tonight, President Rivlin will need to decide what happens next. If he’s not going to give Gantz another two weeks, he can either give the mandate to Netanyahu (who, like Gantz, does not have a majority of MKs behind him), or hand it back to the Knesset. If Rivlin chooses to hand the mandate back to the Knesset, then the plenum can choose any lawmaker to form the next government, granted he receives a minimum of 61 votes to do so. Of course, at present there does not seem to be any Member of Knesset who enjoys the support of a majority of his or her peers.
At the same time, a fourth election now seems very unlikely. First of all, Israelis have absolutely no patience for going to the polls yet again. Second, the economic burden of doing so for a fourth time in less than two years would be more than most could tolerate. And, of course, the prospect of voting amid a nationwide lockdown that shows no sign of ending any time soon is not something most Israelis want to consider. Even if they were allowed to go out to the polling stations, few would out of fear of being infected, which would likely result in Israel’s lowest voter turnout ever.
And all of that has left a feeling of deep uncertainty.
It seems impossible for Israel to overcome the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequence without a functioning government. But it seems equally impossible for Israel to form a new government amidst such a political deadlock.
Rivlin’s decision tonight will be a fateful one, which is why many continue to hold out hope for a last-minute agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu, even if it’s only temporary.