Will we ever have a government in Israel?

Rivlin, Netanyahu, Gantz meet September 27, 2019
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On September 25 Netanyahu received the mandate from President Rivlin to establish a government. By law, Netanyahu has to return the mandate to the president if he doesn’t succeed within 28 days. Those 28 days are soon up, and no progress has been achieved in the negotiations. There were talks of him returning the mandate the very next week, but that didn’t happen.

The stumble block for Gantz is that Netanyahu insists on representing not just his own Likud party, but a right-wing bloc of parties with 55 Knesset members. He knows that should he abandon the other parties, they will remember it. Liberman made an offer right after Yom Kippur which Blue White were quick to embrace, but rejected by Netanyahu, as one of the preconditions included the break-up of his bloc.

From Likud’s standpoint, they want the 55 seat bloc to be the basis of government, on which one or more parties can join. Either Gantz, Liberman, or any other party. There are even rumors of negotiations taking place with the Joint List – the Arab party. Another strategy recently tried was to offer Gantz a lot of privileges if he breaks up the Blue White party and joins the coalition as a smaller centrist party, keeping Lapid and the most anti-haredi politicians out. But just as Netanyahu won’t break up his bloc of 55, neither will Gantz betray the Blue White party.

In April, when the same thing happened, Netanyahu never gave back the mandate to the president, but went to new elections instead. His right-wing bloc and the Joint List together had a majority in the Knesset, and they all wanted new elections. This time, however, the Arab party is stronger than ever, and will not be in favor of such a move, so Netanyahu doesn’t have that possibility anymore. When he has to return the mandate to the president, he can ask for an extension, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Rivlin would give him that.

When President Rivlin gets the mandate back, he can either give Gantz a chance, or turn over the mandate to the Knesset, and thus start the dreaded “21 days,” the time period in which the Knesset either must find a candidate for prime minister or they effectively decide to dissolve, and if so, we are going to elections again.

A scenario described by a number of journalists is that Gantz, if he receives the mandate by the president, could potentially establish a minority government with passive support from the Joint List and Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, meaning they do not join the coalition but also will not vote against it in a vote of no confidence. A government like that could be toppled by the Netanyahu-led opposition in a very short period of time, and lead to new elections too, but it would depose Netanyahu, even if only temporarily, from the position of being prime minister, and would significantly weaken him.

It’s a weird game of political chess, and we haven’t seen the last move yet.