Israeli parties start coalition talks

What happened: Just a week after the election, Israel is reaching another political impasse.

  • On Saturday night both Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave public speeches declaring victory. Netanyahu again accused Gantz and other opposition leaders of “stealing” the election and defying the will of the people. Gantz, for his part, slammed Netanyahu for turning a blind eye to increasing incitement against him and vowed to do everything in his power to form a government.
  • The Knesset ordered extra security measures for Gantz after a number of violent threats were made against him on social media. The main point of contention against Gantz, made directly by Netanyahu and his supporters, is the possibility that Gantz will form a minority government with the support of the Joint (Arab) List. A campaign by the Israeli Right has emphasised that such a government, with what they call “terrorist supporting” Arab-Israeli lawmakers, would be illegitimate.
  • The option of a Gantz minority government suffered a blow yesterday amid reports that two Blue and White lawmakers – Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser – will not support such a move. Hendel and Hauser are former Likud members (and Netanyahu aides) and come from Blue and White’s right-wing Telem faction.
  • Coronavirus has dominated the public conversation as Israel takes far-reaching measures to halt the spread of the epidemic. The number of Israelis infected has increased to 41 today, an increase from 30 two days ago.
  • Israel is likely to require all returnees from abroad to self-quarantine – effectively deterring all tourism and foreign travel – as it closed its border crossing with Egypt.

Context: Netanyahu’s right-wing ultra-Orthodox bloc is still stuck on 58 seats, three short of a parliamentary majority. Blue and White and the “anti-Netanyahu” bloc  has 62 seats but is divided over the question of accepting Joint (Arab) List support to form a government.

  • Telem faction head Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon yesterday did not rule out the option of a minority government but called it a “last resort”. Yaalon also said, in reference to Hendel and Hauser, that any move agreed by Blue and White’s leadership would be supported by the entire party. Hendel and Hauser’s two votes are viewed as crucial to any such move.
  • Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman will meet today for coalition talks. Lieberman yesterday issued his demands including the introduction of civil marriages and public transport on the Sabbath – effectively a revolution in relations between state and religion in the country. Gantz quickly agreed to Lieberman’s conditions.
  • Continuing on the theme of the election being “stolen,” Netanyahu’s Likud yesterday blasted the Central Elections Committee, alleging various voting irregularities that the committee has not reviewed. The Central Elections Committee rejected the allegations and will certify the results ahead of their presentation to the President, likely on Wednesday.

Looking ahead: As Israeli parties step up coalition talks, the official response to coronavirus is taking shape and it has been suggested that the national health emergency should now be managed by a national unity Government led by Netanyahu and Gantz.

  • Israel could soon recommend against most foreign travel for Israeli citizens and request all incoming passengers enter quarantine, effectively stopping tourist arrivals. Israel has so far not included the UK or US on its list of foreign countries where arrivals must enter quarantine but most observers believe that decision is imminent.
  • A football cup quarter final match in Haifa tonight will take place with no spectators and Defence Minister Naftali Bennett will consult with military chiefs today to decide whether not to implement a full closure of crossings into the West Bank.
  • President Rivlin will begin meeting party leaders this week and will on 17 March ask one of the party leaders to form a Government.