What happened: After consultations with all political parties yesterday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is set to give Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the opportunity to form a government. Gantz received the recommendation of 61 out of 120 Knesset members, compared to 58 for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (with one abstention).
- For the first time Gantz received the support of the entire Joint (Arab) List, including the controversial Balad faction. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party also recommended Gantz after abstaining after last September’s election.
- The Joint List reached its decision after extensive deliberations, with party leader Ayman Odeh explaining the decision as a means to depose Netanyahu saying: “It wasn’t from love of Mordechai but from hatred of Haman.”
- Lieberman also blasted Netanyahu, saying the prime minister was seeking another election in 6 to 8 months “on the wings of the corona defeater.”
- Prior to the presidential consultations, Netanyahu had offered Blue and White some kind of power-sharing arrangement either in a temporary emergency government or longer-term national unity government.
- Gantz and other Blue and White leaders accused Netanyahu of manipulating the public, slamming the premier for several recent steps taken in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, including delaying the start of his corruption trial until May and raising the possibility of digitally tracking infected citizens using counterterrorism tools.
- Nevertheless, Gantz and Netanyahu met last night at the president’s residence, saying their respective negotiation teams would meet soon.
Context: Gantz being given the first opportunity to form a government was expected, although uncertain until the full recommendations of the Joint List and Lieberman were made. While Gantz has the votes to receive this mandate from the president, he is unlikely to be able to form a government.
- Two right wing backbenchers in Blue and White are known to strongly oppose the formation of a Gantz minority government with the external support of the Joint List. Without their two votes Gantz does not have a parliamentary majority.
- However, Blue and White intend to use Gantz’s mandate to take control of the parliamentary process: replacing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) with their own candidate and to possibly pass a law barring an indicted prime minister from serving in office in future (starting in the next Knesset). Blue and White also intend to increase parliamentary oversight of the Netanyahu transitional government, in particular relating to far-reaching coronavirus measures some opposition members view as infringements on civil rights.
- In parallel, Likud and Blue and White are likely to begin talks over a national unity/emergency government, with the major sticking point remaining the details of a premiership rotation agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu.
Looking ahead: The Knesset will be sworn in today under strict coronavirus protocols, with no spectators and limited numbers of lawmakers congregating at any one time. President Rivlin will also officially assign Gantz the task of forming a government later today; Gantz will then, by law, have 28 days with a possible 14 day extension. Most analysts do not think it likely that Gantz will use the entire allotted time due to national uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, with the most likely option still some kind of national unity deal – and not, as has been the case for the past year, another election.