After almost four weeks of attempts to cobble up a majority in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally gave up October 21, Monday. In a video statement, Netanyahu claimed that he had tried incessantly to form a broad unity government, but was denied by Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. Now, Gantz has 28 days to garner the support of 61 Members of the Knesset (MKs) to form the government. Gantz has a tough task ahead.
The Blue and White-led alliance has the support of 54 MKs, which include his own party’s 33, Labour-Gesher’s 6, Democratic Camp’s 5, and 10 of the 13 members of the Arab Parties’ Joint List. However, he still needs 7 MKs to form the government.
If he too fails, president Reuven Rivlin may give the mandate to anyone who is willing to try for another 21 days. In case of failure, fresh elections – the third in less than a year -will be held.
The second round of Knesset elections were held on September 17, after those held in April failed to throw up a clear winner. In this round too, no party or alliance managed a clear majority.
Likud lost its position as the leading party to the Blue and White. However, the Likud-led alliance had more seats (55) than the one led by Blue and White (54). Thus, Netanyahu was invited first by president Rivlin to try and secure a majority.
Prior to this, president Rivlin had called for a unity government between Likud and Blue and White, where both the leaders would split the term. He had even suggested that in case of Netanyahu being indicted, he could take a leave of absence, giving Benny Gantz the authority on all governmental matters. The decision regarding Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges will most probably be taken by the end of the year.
However, from the very beginning, the possibilities for such an arrangement were slim given that the Likud-led alliance refused to replace Netanyahu as its leader. Gantz’s election campaign had focused on the issue of corruption and he insisted he would not be in a government with Netanyahu.
There have also been disagreements over the participation of ultra-religious parties such as United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Shas and Yamina in the unity government. While Gantz did not want to form a government with them, Netanyahu insisted on their participation. The Blue and White had also campaigned on the issue of creating a more secular polity in Israel. At the same time, its position is not very different from that of Likud on Palestine. Gantz himself is notorious for his role in the 2014 assault on Gaza.
The formation of a majority government will now depend on Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu has 8 MKs. However, he has repeatedly refused to back a government which also has the participation of members from the Arab list.
Lieberman wants a unity government with the Blue and White and Likud, but without Netanyahu and parties such as Shas and UTJ.