In an intense political arena such as Israel, politicians’ biggest enemy is a deadline. If the law didn’t stipulate how long a prime minister’s mandate lasted, we’d be stuck with transitional governments that never transitioned, and endless negotiations. But if time presents limitations, it also heals—election promises, for example. The more time passes, the bombastic campaign declarations and billboards are forgotten, and elected officials can slowly maneuver themselves out of the corners into which they backed themselves in the campaign.
The next government, if one is assembled before yet another election is held, won’t start operating for another two and a half months, at the earliest. That’s an eternity. By then, anything could happen, and if experience is any indication, will happen. Everything politicians promised this past month will very soon be irrelevant.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s decision to be second, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to try to assemble a government stems from a mistake. If he thought that the threat of a third election would get things moving in his favor, he should take a look at the Basic Law: the Government. He would find that the end of the time allowed for a candidate to form a government does not necessarily mean a new election.
The election results show us that the only option on the table is a unity government led by the Likud and Blue and White. The political realities since the election make it a necessity for the entire right-wing bloc to sit together on one side of a coalition, whereas Blue and White can bring in parties form the Left that will contribute to a broad, inclusive government.
The only way this will happen is if all sides shed the delusions they held until Sept. 17. Netanyahu will have to share power in a rotating premiership. Gantz will have to join a government that includes Netanyahu, even though he promised not to do so, and even accept Netanyahu’s natural partners. But if he does that, he will be rewarded with the prime ministership two years from now.
The reason for the battle over who would be second (rather than first) to attempt a coalition government has to do with the second candidate supposedly having more leverage. If the first fails, it still doesn’t mean a repeat election, because now it’s the turn of No. 2 in line. Gantz believes that if the threat of a third election looms, the Likud will begin to revolt against Netanyahu, allowing Gantz to lead a government with a Netanyahu-less Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. What Gantz failed to take into account was that even if the second candidate to try fails, it doesn’t mean there is automatically another election. The law allows another 21 days for any of the candidates, even the ones who failed to do so, to put together a coalition of at least 61 MKs and swear in a new government.
The most favorable scenario, therefore, would be if Gantz climbed down and agreed to talk with Netanyahu about unity. That could happen during the first try, the second try, or at the latest during the last 21-day grace period. When it would happen matters less than the result: a unity government comprising the Likud, Blue and White, the right-wing parties and the haredim, and possibly some left-wing parties like Labor.
The second scenario is that Gantz doesn’t manage to hold on to his allies, either from Blue and White or the other left-wing parties like Labor-Gesher, and Netanyahu becomes prime minister with a coalition that rests on right-wing and haredi parties, with some elements from the left.
The third scenario is that Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman breaks and becomes the one who is forced to join a Netanyahu government and give him power, along with his “messianic haredi” political partners. A government that appears unlikely could turn out to be stable, because Lieberman would re-join the right, which was his natural place until he decided to leave in the last election.
A fourth scenario is that a Netanyahu-led coalition could fall apart. Time and weak nerves on the part of people in the right-wing camp are having an effect, and two or three months from now we could see players from the right—like the haredi parties or the New Right—break away and seek new horizons in a left-wing government under Gantz.
A fifth possibility, similar to the fourth, is that rather than the small right-wing parties and the haredim breaking away, something similar happens with Likud members. This is what Gantz is counting on. (Spoiler: It won’t happen.)
And, of course, there is a sixth scenario, one that is more plausible that it seems, even though it is no less bizarre: the country holds a third election.
Last time, we all hoped that a Knesset member would get up and join the government, saving us all from a repeat election. That didn’t happen. Now, one MK wouldn’t be enough to save us, but the hope we can avoid a third election remains.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.