Israel’s Likud Blue-and-White Government Coalition at Breaking Point

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


Israeli politics appear to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of instability as new elections loom on the horizon yet again. But perhaps, with PM Netanyahu fighting for his political survival while trying to stay out of the reach of the country’s judicial system, the dissolution of the uneasy political alliance with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz was always a matter of when, rather than if. Following the latest developments, Israeli observers have remarked Mr. Gantz is now learning firsthand what many of Mr. Netanyahu’s former government allies already knew: the risks associated with putting their faith in the prime minister’s word. As a result, while there is a slim possibility that new elections may be averted, most agree that by next March Israeli voters will be making a repeat trip to the voting booths.

Mr. Gantz has said that he still hopes to avert new elections, especially given the ongoing pandemic. However, as this Arutz Sheva report points out, the Blue and White leader is determined to hold the prime minister’s feet to the fire if he doesn’t “pass the budget for both years together and soon – otherwise the government will fall. However, in closed discussions he is still apparently hoping for a last-minute deal that could avert elections, even though he admits that the chances of attaining that goal are low and dwindling. According to a report on Kan 11 News, Gantz told several of his close associates that the meeting with the Likud Finance Minister would not lead to any decisions being made, and that he had no real expectation that a solution would be found. Gantz also allegedly stated that despite his pessimism, he was still making every attempt to avoid elections, as they would be an absolute disaster for the country if they were held.”

Some argue that the country cannot afford to go through yet another election cycle and have called on Netanyahu to resign to open the way to a budget agreement. In an op-ed for The Times of Israel, Avidan Freedman, an Israeli activist, argues that Israeli voters have become “hostages” to Mr. Netanyahu’s high-stakes game of personal survival, adding that there can’t be new elections if “we refuse to go. And that is what we must do. Why? It’s very simple. We elect representatives to act in our best interests, and in the best interests of the country. Is there a single citizen in Israel whose interests are best served by going to yet another round of elections?… We have become — hostages to a situation centered around the political survival of one man…. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the past months calling on Prime Minister Netanyahu to step down. At this critical time, it is the duty of every citizen to prevent another round of elections by raising their voice and joining this call.”

There are others, however, who believe that in the aftermath of the Biden victory, elections may be a necessity for Israel if it wants to speak with one voice in its foreign policy. That is the argument put forward by Jonathan S. Tobin, who, writing for Israel Hayom, worries that an increasingly dysfunctional Israeli government may do real harm to Israel’s relationship with the US: “The prospect of a new administration in Washington is cause for concern, even if it may not prove to be the end of the world. But the challenge that this will pose requires Jerusalem to speak with one voice…. Even if that means that Israelis must suffer through the agony of a fourth election inside of two years, a divorce between unity government partners Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz has become a necessity…. The stakes involved in properly managing relations with Biden and avoiding the kinds of conflict that happened under Obama are too high for Israel to continue with a dysfunctional coalition. The sooner the current government is replaced by one that can speak with one voice – no matter whose voice it is – the better.”

Mr. Tobin’s wish may soon become a reality, as averting elections is becoming increasingly unlikely, with most observers, including Yedioth Ahronoth’s Limor Livnat, expecting the country to head to the polls in March 2021: “There will be no budget, nor will there be a rotation for the role of prime minister as stipulated in the agreement signed in May. Netanyahu is simply not to be believed…. The election train has left the station…. To his advantage, Netanyahu will find himself standing against a fragmented center-left opposition. He therefore need only hope that his opponent to the right, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, will return to the fold and join him in forming his most coveted right-wing religious government. Such a coalition would ensure his immunity from the charges he faces for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and enshrine his rule for years to come.”

Given Mr. Netanyahu’s track record for being an unreliable coalition partner, Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz and others take issue with Mr. Gantz for agreeing to join the Israeli PM in government in the first place and fear that as a result of a possible subsequent breakup of the Likud / Blue and White coalition, the Israeli PM may be headed for yet another term: “This government – the first formed in the age of COVID – was supposed to be different, and it could have been if Netanyahu was not currently on trial and putting his own political survival before the needs of the nation. That detail, small as it might seem, comes before everything else. The consequences of this are far greater than whether Gantz should have listened to Lapid or learned the lessons some of his predecessors experienced when they joined with Netanyahu. The original failure of Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi to foresee what Netanyahu would do, and even now to continue to be outmaneuvered by him, undermines the faith Israelis will put in another chief of staff running in another party in another election.”

What is even more worrying for those opposed to the return of a Likud-led center-right government is the fact that, with elections likely around the corner, centrist and center-left parties appear to be unprepared to mount a challenge against Netanyahu. As Yuval Karni puts it in a recent op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth,While the right-wing is solidified and organized, the center-left is a total mess…. Following the disintegration of Blue & White, the center-left’s most successful political project in years ended abruptly. After Benny Gantz decided to join with Netanyahu in a coalition he called an emergency government to manage the pandemic, the center-left has lost its way and is desperately looking for anyone with even a hint of leadership who could go up against Netanyahu. The problem is not a lack of possible candidates, but a suffocating overabundance of them…. This chaos might sort itself out before the candidate lists are finalized. But if it does not, a center-left alternative to Netanyahu is very unlikely, leaving the field open to a growing and powerful right wing.”

Ori Wertman, an Adjunct Researcher at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, in an op-ed for the Times of Israel, highlights yet another major cause of concern for opponents of Mr. Netanyahu, i.e., the endemic weakness of the Labor Party, which for many has now become a shadow of the formidable political force it once was: “Throughout most of its long history, Labor was the most important and influential party in the landscape of Israeli politics. Its unchallenged control of the political system in Israel until the upheaval of 1977 is one of the longest ever in the history of democratic regimes…. Since the collapse of the Oslo process and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, however, the Labor Party has been unable to return to leadership…. There is no doubt that the establishment of the Blue and White Party in its unified version, which was in fact a genetic duplication of the Labor Party of the 1990s, crushed Labor and took its place in the landscape of Israeli politics…. Labor needs a new chair who will be able to bring the center-left voters back home. Only then will the party be able to be an alternative to Netanyahu and return to lead the country.”

But, as these comments by Limor Samimian-Darash—a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—show, even supporters of the center-right parties seem to be concerned about how they will fare in the upcoming elections, worried in particular about the fact thatIn every election campaign in recent years, the right-wing parties have put aside national and governmental ideology for a temporary embrace from the so-called ‘center’. Similar to Avigdor Lieberman in the past, and Moshe Kahlon before him – the transition from right to center is merely a political-opportunistic tactic, an express lane to a desired portfolio at the expense of the long ideological path. The payoff is personal. The tragedy is a national one…. Over the past decade, Israelis have moved to the right; the left is shrinking and unable to rise to power, but the right-wing parties are centralizing one after another and ensuring we never see the formation of a clear right-wing government.”

Ultimately, for Jerusalem Post’s Susan Hattis Rolef, there is little doubt that one of the main considerations in the minds of the Israeli voters as they head to the polls will be what role, if any, should the current prime minister play in the future of the country: “On the Likud’s part, two of the messages of this campaign are ‘there is no one who equals Bibi’ and ‘this election should not be about ‘yes Bibi’ and ‘no Bibi’.’… The outcome of the next elections is difficult to predict because we do not yet know what parties will run, what alliances and what splits will take place. But, most of all we do not know whether Bennett will end up swallowing his pride and rejoin Netanyahu, despite his bitter past experience, or whether he will choose to join those who wish to see the Netanyahu era come to an end. In the final reckoning, the struggle will again be between ‘yes Bibi’ and ‘no Bibi’. Let us hope that one way or the other, this time there will be a clear-cut decision.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top