Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t have scripted a better ending to Israel’s year-long election saga. Benny Gantz, the head of the rival Blue and White coalition, was going to have the opportunity to form a new government, then he suddenly reversed himself and agreed to a unity government with Netanyahu.
Why did Gantz cave in — especially at that moment? Some have suggested it was Gantz’s way of getting out of the race, as he had been playing the electoral game for well over a year and was simply exhausted. He competed half-heartedly from the start, and it was clear that he did not have the same energy and drive for the game of electoral politics as Netanyahu. This was the most difficult election cycle in Israeli history, and it was more than Gantz signed up for. He didn’t have the extra motivation Netanyahu does of using the prime minister’s position to avoid a criminal trial and, very likely, a prison sentence. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
For a moment, it seemed there was a light at the end of Israel’s political tunnel. Although Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party won fewer Knesset seats in the March 3 election than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, sheer hatred of Netanyahu drove his former ally, the right-wing Avigdor Liberman, toward Gantz’s camp and what seemed like a narrow majority of support for a new government.
The idea was that Blue and White, with 33 seats, would create a coalition with the Labor-Gesher-Meretz center-left bloc (seven seats) and Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party (seven seats) and get support “from the outside”— the Joint List, the mostly Palestinian bloc of parties which won a remarkable 15 seats. With Netanyahu’s coalition yielding only 58 seats, all Gantz would need is one more than that to form a government, under Israel’s parliamentary rules. It would be a highly unstable government, but it would at least avert yet another election on top of the three Israel has held in the last year. And it would augur Netanyahu’s long-awaited departure from the Prime Minister’s Office. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
On March 2, Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in a year to try to elect a prime minister and a new Knesset. They are frustrated and exhausted from the ongoing electoral campaign, the repeated trips to the polls and the repeated unresolved outcomes. But unless the polls are drastically mistaken and have been since the last election in September, there’s every reason to believe that there will be another deadlock, resulting in a fourth election.
The only realistic chance for the impasse to break this time is for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a way to cobble together a majority coalition. His opponent, former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Benny Gantz, has no credible path to the prime minister’s office.
Netanyahu’s stake in the race goes beyond retaining the prime minister’s office, as he is under indictment for fraud and breach of public trust, and is facing prison unless he can use his position as prime minister to shield himself from accountability. His trial is due to start shortly after the election.
Netanyahu is working tirelessly for every electoral edge. His recent overtures to Morocco and Sudan were an attempt to bolster his image as the leader who can improve Israel’s ties to the rest of the world without granting the Palestinians their rights and freedom. Now he’s moving to solidify his support among the settler movement, which has recently voiced some frustration with him. He’s making some very significant decisions with long-term ramifications, and all for his re-election bid. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The “Deal of the Century,” the mythical agreement floated for most of Donald Trump’s first term in office, is on the table again. Earlier this month, Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s new envoy to the equally mythical “Middle East peace process,” made his first official trip to Israel, setting off another round of speculation that the plan might soon be unveiled.
Although National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien denied that Israel’s upcoming elections — the third in a year — had any bearing on Washington’s plans, no one was convinced. Now, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, have been invited to Washington for what is expected to be a discussion of the plan’s details.
No one believes the plan will yield peace or an agreement of any kind. But that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. In the short term, it has already created a political shock wave in Israel as elections loom in March. In the longer term, it has the potential to deal a devastating blow to hopes for stability and, more importantly, for Palestinian rights. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The second Israeli national election of 2019 has led to a lot of confusion. It has not resolved the question of who will fill the prime minister’s office on a permanent basis, nor has it cleared up the political logjam the country has been dealing with all year. Contrary to what many believe, the decision by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to give incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the first try at forming a governing majority coalition is not at all the same thing as Netanyahu having successfully held on to the job.