Gantz Unable To Form New Government, Israeli Politics Becomes More Chaotic

Blue & White Party Leader Benny Gantz was unable to form a new government, throwing Israel into another political crisis.

In a move that seems likely to push Israel toward its third election inside of a year, the chief rival of Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he has been unable to form a government after a month of trying to do so:

After two deadlocked elections and three failed attempts at forming a government, Israel’s yearlong political paralysis was no closer to a cure on Wednesday, as Benny Gantz, the centrist military leader who had tried to dislodge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power, angrily admitted he had not succeeded.

Mr. Gantz’s acknowledgment hours before a midnight deadline propelled a deeply divided Israel into a new, uncharted phase of political chaos and increased the likelihood that the country would be forced to hold a third election.

As if that were not enough for Israelis to digest, there were reports Wednesday night that Mr. Netanyahu could be indicted on long-expected corruption charges as soon as Thursday, and that Israeli security officials were bracing for an escalation along the northern border after an Israeli airstrike against Iranian forces near Damascus killed at least 21 people.

Mr. Gantz, of the Blue and White party, named for the national colors, informed Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, that he was returning the mandate to form a government, and then delivered a lengthy denunciation of Mr. Netanyahu in a televised news conference.

Directly addressing the prime minister repeatedly, Mr. Gantz lambasted Mr. Netanyahu for insisting on maintaining his “extremist” right-wing, ultrareligious bloc instead of trying to build a unity government from the center. And he accused Mr. Netanyahu of trying to foment a “civil war” by scapegoating Arab lawmakers.

“I will not cooperate with an effort to turn the majority of the people to a hostage being held by a small group of extremists,” Mr. Gantz said. “I will not be prepared to impose a radical agenda on the majority of the people who have chosen differently. And I will not accept the delegitimacy of any part of the Israeli public.”

Both Mr. Gantz and Mr. Netanyahu sought to disavow responsibility for pushing the country toward a third election which, financially, will cost Israel more than $750 million, equal to about a third of its current budget deficit, as well as the economic loss of giving the country a day off.

“I was prepared to make radical concessions in order to form a stable and unified government,” Mr. Gantz said. “If you had only known the depth of this willingness, some of you might be angry with me. But the good of Israel comes first, above any other consideration.”

For his part, Mr. Netanyahu, in a video posted on Twitter, insisted that he was “willing without preconditions to enter immediate discussions with you, even tonight, to form a unity government.”

But he insisted that Mr. Gantz’s failure was his alone, and accused him of having been willing even to align with Arab lawmakers, whom Mr. Netanyahu called “terror supporters.”

Gantz’s announcement comes two months after Israel’s latest round of elections in September, and one month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he too was unable to form a government, and it leaves the Israeli political system into limbo for a period that could last well into next year.

After the first set of elections this year, which took place in April and appeared to enure to the benefit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, Netanyahu was given the chance to form a government. In that case, President Rivlin chose Netanyahu because his Likud coalition had come closet to the 62 seats needed for a Knesset majority. That effort ended in failure in May when it became apparent that Netanyahu would be unable to form a working majority in the Knesset thanks largely to the refusal of his former ally-turned-rival Avigdor Lieberman, who heads a small coalition of parties devoted to creating a more secular issue, to join a unity government that included ultra-orthodox parties.

That led to the second round of elections last month in which Netanyahu and his chief rival Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz ended up essentially tied in the number of seats their respective parties control in the Knesset. In both cases, though, that number was only about 50% of the way toward the 62 seats they’d need to command a majority, meaning that either party will have to form a coalition if they’re going to form a government. Toward that end, there has been considerable pressure on both parties to form a national unity government in which the position of Prime Minister would rotate between the two parties over the four years the new Knesset would be serving,

While both parties have essentially endorsed that idea, the hangup appears to be on the question of Netanyahu’s fate. Netanyahu is apparently still insisting that Likud hold the Priemership first, with Gantz serving as Foreign Minister under Netanyahu. Gantz, on the other hand, is insisting that his party must hold the Prime Minister’s position first and that the Likud candidate for Minister must be someone other than Netanyahu given the fact that Bibi is facing criminal charges that could move forward as early next month. Unless that dispute is resolved somehow, the idea of a Likud/Blue and White unity government would appear to be off the table.

The next step is up to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin who basically has two options in front of him. In theory, at least he could ask any member of the Knesset to form a government, but given the fact that Gantz’s Blue & White Party and Netanyahu’s Likud Party control the most members, it seems unlikely that anyone else would be able to do what neither Gantz or Netanyahu can do. The other option would be to schedule a third election, most likely in February or March 2020 but the problem there is that the outcome is likely to be largely the same as it has been in the past two elections. Alternatively, Rivlin could delay a decision and attempt to negotiate the terms for a Unity Government between Likud and Blue & White but that seems unlikely as long as Netanyahu is at the head of Likud. So, it looks like Israel is headed for another election whether they want to or not.

FILED UNDER: Israel, Middle East
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kurtz says:
  2. @Kurtz:

    Yes. More about that later today

  3. Moosebreath says:

    @Kurtz:

    Bibi’s indictment may make it easier to form a government, as the main difference between Gantz’s party and Likud is that Gantz said he would not be part of a government with Bibi in it. With Bibi indicted, the way may be clear for Gantz to form a coalition with Likud keeping Bibi out of office.

  4. Mister Bluster says:

    President Pud: “Netanyawhooo? Don’t know him!”

  5. grumpy realist says:

    Israel is also getting split (along with worries about the future) because of the expected increase in the ultra-orthodox. Supposedly a problem Israel is starting to run into is that the typical education for the ultra-orthodox (at least the men) is so religiously-based they’re not learning anything else (math, science) with expected dreaded effects on Israel’s future economy.

    On the other hand I’ve also read stories about how quite a few of the ultra-orthodox have been getting into coding as an “acceptable” way of earning a living, so YMMV.

  6. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I wouldn’t object to locking them up together, maybe in North Korea.

  7. Kylopod says:

    @grumpy realist: One thing that fascinates me about Haredi culture is that, despite being extremely patriarchal and antifeminist, the practice of discouraging men from working in order to devote their time to Torah study has led to a weird situation in which many Haredi wives are becoming the bread-winners in the family and sometimes getting a better practical education than their husbands.

    It’s important to understand that this element of Haredi culture is a relatively new development historically, emerging in just the last half-century. When Israel was created, it gave a lot of power to the religious in general, so that despite an ostensibly secular government there was significant meddling between shul and state, in a way that would never be permitted in the US. But it was only later that Haredim developed these toxic and economically unsustainable tendencies, which have become a burden on Israeli society. It’s what provoked Lieberman to bail, creating the current impasse.

  8. Kathy says:

    @Kurtz:

    When you look at Trump, Johnson, and Bibi, three major exponents of Western right-wing politics, it strikes me that they’re either criminally corrupt, incompetent, or both.

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    I wouldn’t object to locking them up together, maybe in North Korea.

    I hear the Tijuana Jail is no Bed and Breakfast.
    Might want to keep El Presidente closer to home so we can keep an eye on him.

    I never spent any time in the slammer but did get cracked returning into California from TJ back in ’75 when we thought we’d be clever and smuggle in some cheap Mexican beer.
    We declared what we thought was legal and the border agents found what we had hidden in the spare tire well.
    We didn’t have enough cash between the three of us to cover the fine so they took every last cent we had, confiscated some of the swill and made us pour out the rest in the designated drain. Two or three 6 packs of Dos Equis Amber in the brown bottles. Not the burro piss they put in the green bottles these days.
    Even though I haven’t had a drink in at least 20+ years the memory still makes me cry inside.

  10. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I hear the Tijuana Jail is no Bed and Breakfast.

    Maybe. But what makes you think we want any of your white trash?

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Israel is also getting split (along with worries about the future) because of the expected increase in the ultra-orthodox. Supposedly a problem Israel is starting to run into is that the typical education for the ultra-orthodox (at least the men) is so religiously-based they’re not learning anything else (math, science) with expected dreaded effects on Israel’s future economy.

    Ahh, somewhat similar to evangelicals in this country or the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia…fascinating what too much religiosity does to some people…

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Good point. OTOH, the same question would apply to NK. Chairman Kim may not be up to taking on the mantle of “Political Prison for the World.”