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.