After midnight on Tuesday and against all expectations, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, decided to extend the mandate granted to the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) leader Benny Gantz to form a new government, following a request from both Gantz and Netanyahu, in a final attempt to reach an emergency government or a national unity government. Rivlin attributes this strange development to the fact that this shared request from the two rivals indicates great potential for them to reach an agreement, and therefore extended the deadline by two days, ending midnight tonight. All in an effort to avoid a fourth election.
These developments that occurred in the final hours regarding the formation of an Israeli government reflect contexts that go beyond what can be considered "reasonable". It makes no sense for a political opponent to request an extension for their rival's mandate, as Netanyahu did for Gantz. It is also not logical in the political context that the charged individual, who, in this case is Gantz, should strive to form a government led by his political rival, Netanyahu. Meanwhile, now all of the efforts are focused on cooperation between the two opponents and on ensuring Netanyahu leads the new government, regardless of what it is called. This is in spite of the fact Gantz's election campaign centred on removing Netanyahu from office.
The few hours that separate us from the end of the short extension will certainly be critical and there is a possibility, albeit small, that Gantz will succeed in forming the government led by Netanyahu before the end of the deadline in light of talk from the latter's circles that there is a settlement underway that calls for Likud to give up its demands regarding the formation of a committee to appoint judges. This demand had led to the failure of previous efforts to form a government in exchange for a document public announcement by Gantz that he would not be entitled to take over as prime minister if the Israeli Supreme Court prevents Netanyahu from taking office; new elections would instead be called.
The Supreme Court has already refused to consider the matter of tasking Netanyahu with forming the new government, saying it can only look into this once he has officially been appointed to head the government and not before. In imposing a clause forcing a new election to be held should the court decide Netanyahu cannot take office, the prime minister is ensuring Gantz does not file a lawsuit against him.
Holding elections once again is in Netanyahu's favour. The latest opinion polls indicated that the right-wing coalition led by Netanyahu would get 62 seats, including 41 for his Likud party, while the Gantz-led Israel Resilience Party, allied with Peretz's Labour Party, would win 16 seats and the Joint List would win 15, making it the third largest party.
All outcomes benefit only Netanyahu.
This article first appeared in Al-Ayyam on 15 April 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.