Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is planning to hold talks with the various parliamentary blocs in the 23rd Knesset next Sunday in order for them to nominate their candidates to form the next government. The competition is between the leaders of Blue and White, Benny Gantz, and Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. Given the coronavirus situation, the talks will be short, with limited representation, and closed to the media, although they will be broadcast. The final election results have been announced, but Likud does not agree with them, according to a statement issued by Blue and White on Channel 7. This, said the opposition group, is a dangerous precedent with Likud failing to get the results that it wants and needs.
In the wake of the second general election in the past 12 months last September, and the subsequent failure to form a government, Rivlin suggested that Likud and the Blue and White bloc should form a unity government with Netanyahu heading the government for a few months, before letting Gantz take over. This was due to the "uncertainty" surrounding Netanyahu's trial at the time. Likud members stand by this proposal, but Blue and White has repeated its rejection, a position that strengthened once the date was set for Netanyahu's trial on corruption and fraud charges, which is due to start on 17 March.
There is no realistic possibility on the horizon of either of the two main parties being able to form a stable government, or any kind of government at all. Despite Netanyahu's right-wing bloc's superiority in numbers, it still needs three seats to have an overall majority. Counting on Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser to jump ship from Blue and White is not guaranteed, as despite them being closer to Likud ideologically, they connect with Blue and White over their mutual opposition to Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Likud's bet on Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu's return to the right-wing bloc is no longer an option after Gantz agreed to terms with Lieberman. The Moldova-born former Defence Minister has overlooked the possibility that Arab-Israeli MKs from the Joint List may support a Gantz-led government, albeit from outside any coalition. What distinguishes the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu is that it is solid and difficult, but not impossible, to break. However, in the current situation, the Likud-led bloc is more united politically than anything that Gantz is trying to assemble.
Nevertheless, the former general has a chance of forming a government, perhaps more so than the right-wing bloc, not least because this is the first time in the three elections since last April that Gantz's Blue and White has turned to the Joint List to ask for support for the government from outside its formal coalition. This is also the first time that this bloc has included Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.
However, this faces a number of problems, including the possibility of Blue and White fragmenting, especially with the defection of Gabi Ashkenazi, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser due, according to leaks, to their refusal to form a minority government with support from the Joint List. Furthermore, the latter may not remain united given the position of the Balad party, which refuses to nominate Gantz to form the government.
While this does not pose a threat in terms of Knesset seats that may hinder the formation of a minority government, the danger lies in the inability to form a government that is likely to be stable. This means that yet another general election might be needed. For the Joint List, this could see it losing its unity, credibility and supporters. Thus the right wing bloc under Netanyahu's leadership will have a better chance to win enough seats to form the next government in the still hypothetical fourth election; his racist campaigning has credibility with an increasing number of Israeli voters. What's more, the Blue White bloc is likely to lose members and support due to anger at the tactics used by Gantz and his colleagues in the leadership.
This mess is characterised by the comments made by the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, who is the second candidate on the Blue and White list. He has distanced himself and his party from the Joint List bloc because, contrary to what is being claimed, he believes that the Arab MKs should vote just once for the proposed government to give it some credibility — a vote of confidence, if you like — after which it should have no role to play. This is something that the Joint List certainly cannot accept if it wants to retain its credibility among Arab-Israeli voters. In the wake of Lapid's comments, the chances of an Israeli government being formed in the immediate future are thus unrealistic, while yet another general election just became even more likely.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ayyam on 11 March 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.