The morning after Israel’s second election of the year failed to offer clarity about who exactly will form the next government, or whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will remain in office.
Israeli media, citing sources within the elections committee, have reported that Likud and main opposition alliance Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) have both secured 32 seats in the next Knesset. While the numbers may slightly change, the election has served up another deadlock.
The focus will now turn to who is able to form a coalition government – Netanyahu or Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The latter, however, has already expressed his openness to a unity government including his party, and Likud.
Thus, while Netanyahu has avoided both outright victory or defeat, the current talk of a unity government could, ultimately, spell the end of his time as prime minister – and Likud leader.
A Haaretz report this morning noted that “after what looks like an almost certain failure to secure a majority coalition”, Netanyahu “didn’t need anyone to tell him about the murmurings within Likud that his own party should start thinking about a change in leadership.”
Netanyahu’s speech at a Likud rally late yesterday “was a carefully measured attempt to reassert his leadership, while acknowledging, without saying it in so many words, that matters have changed.”
As well as worrying about the likes of potential future Likud leader Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu “sees people plotting all around him, and just for once, his legendary paranoia may be warranted.”
In the run-up to the election, Gantz was insistent that Blue and White would not sit in a unity government with Netanyahu. Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party appears to have secured nine seats, has also backed a unity government.
With everything up in the air, and the final count still to come in, various permutations are still possible, including Netanyahu securing a majority and continuing as prime minister.
But in the context of coalition talks, and the possible emergence of a unity government, Likud figures may already be considering how to dump their long-term leader in order to keep the party in power.