Middle East in Focus
The failure of Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition may have condemned Israel to a third parliamentary election in one year. Unwilling to separate himself from right-wing coalition allies, Mr. Netanyahu has made Mr. Gantz’s task of creating a national unity government with the Likud impossible. Fighting for his political survival, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is also facing legal charges related to several cases of alleged corruption, may soon face opposition from within the Likud, although for the time being he still has the support of most of the rank and file. How much longer that will be the case, remains to be seen.
The reaction of Likud party officials has been varied. Some, as this report by Arutz Sheva’s staff suggests, have called on other parties, including Yisrael Beytenu and Labor, to join with Likud to form a governing coalition: “These leaders are planning to hold a conference in Petah Tikva with the goal of convincing Yisrael Beytenu Chairman MK Avigdor Liberman to join a narrow right-wing coalition, essentially re-creating the government as it was between 2015-2018. Separately, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz called on the Labor-Gesher party to join a coalition.... Following Gantz's failure, the Knesset began a 21-day period in which any MK can attempt to form a coalition by garnering the support of 61 MKs. If no one succeeds in forming a coalition by next week - when the grace period ends - Israel will be forced to hold very unpopular third elections."
Times of Israel’s Emmanuel Navon, a Likud supporter, puts forward an alternative solution, one that would see his party’s current chair, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, resign and thus get out of the way of the creation of a grand coalition with the Blue and White leader: “Israel’s current political crisis is not the product of a dysfunctional system nor of an inconclusive election, but of a paradox: the right has a majority, but its leader doesn’t. The reason for that paradox is that Benjamin Netanyahu has amassed too many enemies within his own political camp.... The only way to prevent a third election or, alternatively, to enable the formation of a government after a third election, is to elect a new Likud chair.... I wish [for] Netanyahu to prove his innocence in court and to clear his name. But it is for him to tilt the judgement of history in his favor by [ceasing] to keep his party and his country hostages of a short-term and hopeless survival tactic."
That sentiment seems to also be backed by Susan Rolef, who in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post argued that it is clear Mr. Netanyahu is standing in the way of Israel’s forming a new government simply out of a need for self-preservation: “The establishment of a functioning national unity government will only be possible without Netanyahu, and unless Netanyahu decides to leave of his own free will, or either the Attorney-General or the High Court of Justice decides that he must resign, only the Likud can decide that it is time for Netanyahu to go, because he is unable to establish such a government, or any other sort of government, and it is he who prevents anyone else in the Likud from trying to form a government.... So if it takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act: regrettably, let it be.”
It seems that the disillusionment with the prime minister within his own Likud Party, as demonstrated by Gideon Sa'ar’s challenge for the leadership of the party, may be spreading. However, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Uri Heitner fears that conservative elements within the party may not be willing to sacrifice Mr. Netanyahu for the country’s good: “It is peculiar to see that every time a Likudnik rises to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership of the party, they are branded by their peers as nothing more than a traitor trying to undermine the party's leadership. When the Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev says her colleague MK Gideon Sa'ar ‘stabbed Netanyahu and the Likud in the back,’ it's no surprise that the responses on social media were also overflowing with bile. Indeed, it didn't take too long for the armchair right-wingers to invent the worst labels they could for Sa'ar, calling him a partner in the ‘so-called coup’ against the prime minister.”
But it is not just within the Likud that people are asking difficult questions. Each of the major voting blocs and coalitions in the Knesset appear to be taking a calculated risk about their electoral prospects should the creation of a stable government be an impossible task. Moran Azulay, for example, identifies in a recent op-ed possible winners and losers: “Even though everybody in the Knesset kept preaching to us about their efforts to prevent a third round of elections in less than a year, it seems that Israel is going to the polls yet again, and there are those who are set to gain from it.... Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party were the kingmakers in the second round of elections in September, a fact that didn't help them, the Likud, or Blue and White in the end. Liberman might find that a third round of elections would leave him with substantially less power to affect the election's results, leaving him and his party politically weakened. On the other hand, the fact that he stood his ground and didn't compromise his principles on matters of religion and state, might end up giving him more power in the polls.”
While the electoral fortunes of the Israeli political parties and coalitions may be difficult to predict should another vote take place, no such uncertainty exists when considering the impact that political instability and bickering is having on the Israeli economy. That, at least, is the interpretation by The Globes’ Amiram Barkat of the Bank of Israel’s decision to lower the interest rate: “The Israeli economy continues to grow at a pace more or less commensurate with its potential, but the political paralysis and the widening deficit are creating great uncertainty about the future.... In a scenario of elections in March 2020, the new budget will be approved only around September-October, at best, if decisive election results are obtained on the third time around, and a stable and responsible government is formed. Postponing addressing the budget deficit will unsettle the market. Meanwhile, the state will work on the basis of the continuation budget. This may be good for restraining spending, but it is likely to detract from growth.”