Netanyahu finally gave the mandate back to the president, two days before his time was up. According to a spokesman of president Rivlin’s office, the mandate will now be given to Benny Gantz. He has 28 days to form a coalition.
This is the third time in Israel’s history that a candidate for the post of prime minister fails in building a coalition, but it’s the first time it happens after elections. The first time was in 1990, when Shimon Peres toppled Yitzchak Shamir’s government, but then failed to gather a coalition. The second time was in 2008, when Ehud Olmert resigned, and Tzipi Livni received the opportunity to build a coalition. After she failed, Israel went to the 2009 elections.
Israel’s politics is known for its volatility and instability. In the 1996 elections, they tried to stabilize the system by voting directly for the prime minister . This change did not, however, bring the stability that many wished for. Instead, it weakened the large parties and strengthened the small ones, bringing more instability to the system. It was eventually abandoned in the early 2000’s.
Now the question is raised again, and some want the law to automatically appoint the leader of the biggest party as prime minister. That would move more people to vote for the bigger parties and hopefully bring more stability to the system. On the other hand, some believe that the existing system with many small parties is a better and more correct representation of Israel’s diverse population, and it should be maintained at all costs.
If Gantz fails during these 28 days, the mandate goes out of the president’s hand and is given to the Knesset. The Knesset then has 21 days to create a government or the law demands new elections. A high ranking official from the Likud party, David Bitan, said to Channel 12 News that he assumes that this is when the government will be formed, not before, because “by then, there will no longer be any party blocs.” He added that “during those 21 days everyone will be under pressure, the party blocs will be gone, and everyone will be ready to do what it takes to avoid new elections.” When asked what they will do, he said he didn’t want to go into details or “give anyone ideas.” When they pressed him on the idea that there won’t be any blocs anymore, he said that “in those 21 days, the blocs will not look like they do today, and then it will be possible to form a government.”
Half an hour after that interview, the Likud party published a ban on all party members to give interviews to the media.
Gantz has said that he is optimistic, but he doesn’t seem to have many options. As long as neither Likud nor anyone else from the right bloc joins him, the only option he has is to form a minority government with Liberman and Labor with passive support from the Democratic Union and the Arab Joint List, or parts of it (some members of the Join List will never support an Israeli general). It would be a very temporary government with the only goal of toppling Netanyahu. He would also want to keep the Democratic Union and the Joint List at an arm’s length in order to convince parts of the right bloc to join him.
Once that government is established, Gantz will hope for Netanyahu to be convicted in court for bribery charges, and then smaller right-wing parties might be ready to join him. But even if that doesn’t succeed, and the Netanyahu-led opposition topples him, Gantz will come to the 2020 elections as the sitting prime minister, having weakened Netanyahu significantly.