Four scenarios for forming the next Israeli government

Ruby Rivlin

Who will be charged with putting together a ruling coalition? A lot will depend on President Reuven Rivlin.

The results of Israel's second elections in six months are not yet final, and the country is looking ahead to try and understand the complicated figures and the political imbroglio into which Israel has fallen this year. The election campaign ensued when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went for broke by dissolving the newly elected 21st Knesset, instead of returning his mandate to the president and allowing another Knesset member to try to form a government in accordance with the law. He trampled the existing laws by using a parallel statute that was retroactively approved by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. The public, however, was unforgiving. The cynical political maneuver, which wasted public money, was widely criticized.

Netanyahu paid a substantial price yesterday at the ballot box. The Israeli public did not like, to say the least, the use of tricks in order to save the skin of a leader suspected in three criminal cases. "It's time to replace him," people told us repeatedly on election day.

While the Likud central committee is willing to forgive Netanyahu anything, the general public gave Netanyahu a message: no further - there is a limit to every joke. The Likud Party has strong support among the Israeli public and is regarded as an important support for the country, but more people wanted the Likud to halt its rightward tilt; stop attacking Arabs, leftists, and liberals, and understand that even a strong and brilliant politician should be equal before the law. These things are being written because under almost any scenario, the Likud will have to be part of Israel's next government.

How will these results be expressed in the forming of a government? Here are four scenarios.

1. Netanyahu brings the Labor Party and the Israel Resilience Party into his coalition

Likelihood: unlikely

Netanyahu will insist that the public supports him, and will try to split Blue and White, to tempt the Labor Party, and get more MKs to recommend him as prime minister than Benny Gantz. Under this scenario, as Netanyahu hinted in his speech at 3:00 AM at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, the Likud will attempt to gain the support of factions beyond its natural partners: Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Yemina. The idea is to persuade the Labor Party with its six Knesset seats to combine with the Likud, as Netanyahu almost succeeded in doing with Avi Gabay in the previous elections in April. Another possibility is to attract the Israel Resilience Party faction of Blue and White and distribute jobs to its members with a generous hand.

The Labor Party told "Globes" today that a scenario of this type was impossible. Labor Party chairman MK Amir Peretz will not serve in a government with Netanyahu under any circumstances, with or without an indictment; this scenario is simply not an option for it. The same is also probably true of Israel Resilience. If Blue and White emerged undivided and on its feet from its first election campaign, they have no reason to dismantle the alliance now.

2. No candidate is recommended by 61 MKs, and President Reuven Rivlin asks Gantz or an MK from the Likud to form a government

Likelihood: moderately likely

Since neither of the two sides obtains recommendations to the president by 61 MKs, Rivlin will have more discretion, and can go back to May 29, when Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset. The president is likely to say that the natural process of returning the mandate to the president and having it given to another MK by law did not occur on May 29, 2019, and he therefore regards himself as "ideologically" returning to the point that was reached four months ago. In other words, after Netanyahu failed to form a government the first time around, if the election results are published and Blue White is the leading party, the president is likely to feel entitled to charge Gantz with forming a government, even without recommendations from 61 MKs. He can also choose another Likud MK instead of Gantz or Netanyahu.

Whom will he choose: Gantz or an MK from the Likud? Charging a Likud MK other than Netanyahu to form a government is liable to be difficult. The president will want to explain his decision, and among the considerations will be the number of MKs supporting each side. As of now, the numbers are Blue White - 32, Likud - 31. The final numbers will depend on votes by soldiers, prisoners, hospital patients, and diplomats.

Another consideration is the number of MKs recommending each side. Netanyahu will probably be recommended by 55 MKs and Gantz by 44. The Joint Arab List, with 13 MKs, did not say that it would recommend Gantz, and Liberman, with nine MKs, also did not promise to recommend Gantz. Netanyahu's argument will be that the person with the largest number of MKs recommending him will have the best chance to form a government, but there are no rules or laws requiring the president to choose him.

3. A rotation as prime minister between Gantz and Netanyahu: Gantz first, followed by Netanyahu after he is acquitted.

Likelihood: impractical

Gantz has been talking in recent weeks about a unity government with the Likud. His basic condition, and that of Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Moshe Ya'alon (Telem) is for Netanyahu to yield his position as prime minister and allow Gantz to be prime minister first in the rotation agreement. During the first part of the rotation, Netanyahu can be a minister in the government until an indictment is filed against him. The Pinchasi Supreme Court precedent states that an indicted minister cannot continue serving in the government, and Netanyahu will therefore have to resign as a minister if he chooses to undergo his trial while serving as an MK. If acquitted, he can return to his position as a minister and/or prime minister.

At this stage, this scenario appears impractical. Few Likud ministers will be willing to admit that Netanyahu should step aside. As long as Netanyahu demands to be prime minister, this scenario appears impossible.

4. The Likud splits and joins a Gantz government

Likelihood: zero

The Likud is trying to replace Netanyahu and join Gantz's government without its leader. There is a clause in the Knesset rules allowing a Knesset faction to split. If one of the splitting parts is composed of over two thirds of the faction's total members, that part is entitled to use the party name.

For example, if the Likud has 31 MKs, 21 of them are entitled to withdraw from the rest and keep the party name. This measure will be difficult to carry out, because there is currently no solidarity and cooperation among the Likud leadership. Anyone who dares to come out against Netanyahu will be accused of treason by Likud members. No politician wants to be the first to take such a stance, out of fear of paying a personal political price for it.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 18, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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