What happened: Israel’s President will today ask opposition leader Benny Gantz to try and form a Government after Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday evening that he had failed to form a 61 seat majority coalition. He made the announcement two days before his officially allotted 28 day deadline. The President’s office yesterday asked all Israeli party leaders who they believed should form the next Government and none had changed their previous positions.
Context: The Blue and White party coalition negotiation team will now invite each of the Israeli political parties to talks. A party source told Globes: “We will present to each of them the foundation principles of a Blue and White-led government, and ask them to subscribe to them. All of them will be invited – including Jewish Home-National Union.”
- Gantz only has the full backing of 44 MK’s so will find it very hard to form a 61 seat majority. He will reach out to parties in the right-wing-religious bloc, but so far they have remained loyal to Netanyahu.
- Netanyahu is reported to be meeting today with the leaders of the right wing and religious parties to encourage them to meet with Blue and White as a courtesy but his preference is for the Likud team to represent them in coalition negotiations.
- Gantz’s best route to Government is to form a grand coalition with Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, and for Gantz and Likud to have a rotating Prime Ministerial arrangement. But the parties were not able to agree this after the 17 September election. Gantz would prefer not to serve with Netanyahu as he is opposed to him remaining Prime Minister if he is indicted on criminal charges. The Israeli media have reported that a number of possible compromises have been discussed where Netanyahu might serve first as Prime Minister, but then step away from day to day Government, but remain Prime Minister, if he were to be indicted by the Attorney General.
- Gantz does have the option of forming a minority government, with Blue and White, Labour and Democratic Union inside the government (44 seats) increasing to 65 seats with the support from the outside by Yisrael Beitenu (8 seats) and the Joint (Arab) List (13 seats). A minority government has never been formed in Israel after an election and there are major disagreements between Yisrael Beitenu, the Arab parties and the Democratic Union. Some analysts have suggested Gantz will use the threat of forming a minority government to pressure the Likud to reach a deal.
Looking ahead: Gantz now has 28 days to form a Government. If he fails, any member of the Knesset who can present the endorsement of 61 MKs can have a go. Due to Netanyahu’s manoeuvring both within the Likud and his right-wing bloc this is highly unlikely. The resulting deadlock could then lead to another election in March 2020.
- Gantz is expected to pursue a twin track approach – he will meet with party leaders to try and form a majority or minority Government and at the same time hold more talks with Benjamin Netanyahu to see if a deal can be reached on a grand coalition.
- The timing of the Attorney General’s indictment announcement is also crucial. It is expected sometime between late November and mid-December but not likely to be before Gantz’s deadline to form a Government expires. If it were to be announced soon, it would change the dynamic of negotiations and allow Gantz to exert pressure on Likud to replace Netanyahu as leader, easing the way to a grand coalition.
- For Netanyahu, a third election is the least worst option as he would be able to remain Prime Minister, even if he were to be indicted, and would hope to convince Likud to stick with him as candidate for PM in that election. A third election would however mean Israel going without a full time Government for more than 18 months.