Lieberman backs Gantz and new law to pressure Netanyahu

What happened: Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday that he would support new legislation to prevent a member of the Knesset indicted for criminal offences serving as prime minister. The Blue and White party proposed the law earlier this week and Lieberman’s move means it could be passed by the Knesset before a possible fourth election. Yisrael Beitenu said: “We have decided to take action to promote two bills. First, a bill to limit the prime minister to two terms. Second, a bill to prevent MKs under indictment from being candidates to form a government.”

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Gantz, who failed at the ballot box, is trying together with Lieberman to steal the decision of masses of Israeli citizens who gave the Likud, under my leadership, a landslide victory.”
  • In a second surprise development, senior Blue and White MK Moshe Yaalon said he would now accept support from the Joint List on condition that the hard-line Balad faction be excluded. Yaalon, a former defence minister and IDF chief of staff, leads the Telem faction – the more right wing group within Blue and White that consists largely of former Likud members.
  • Israel’s Central Elections Committee confirmed the final election results yesterday. The Netanyahu led bloc of right wing and ultra-orthodox parties has 58 seats and the centre left bloc 55. Likud has 36 seats, Blue and White 33 seats, Joint List 15 seats, Shas 9 seats, United Torah Judaism 7 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu 7 seats, Labour-Gesher-Meretz 7 seats, Yamina 6 seats.

Context: Blue and White’s proposed new law is also being supported by Labour-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List but can only be presented to the Israeli Parliament after its new members have been sworn in on 17 March. It is unlikely to be passed in time to impact on current coalition talks but would apply to the process after a possible 4th election.

  • To ensure that the new law can move forward, Benny Gantz needs to be asked to form a Government by the Israeli President so he can replace the Knesset Speaker and the Chair of the Knesset Arrangements Committee. For that to happen he needs more parties to support him to be Prime Minister than Netanyahu.
  • Lieberman’s support for the law is highly significant and indicates strong support for Gantz. He has enjoyed the role of potential kingmaker as his party’s unaligned seven seats will be vital when he makes his recommendation to President Rivlin. Lieberman has not said publicly that Gantz should be asked to form a Government, but Israeli media suggest that he has indicated privately that he intends to do so.

Looking forward: The latest moves open up a number of scenarios including a minority government and a unity government with an alternating premiership. Maariv quotes a Blue and official saying: “Our objective is primarily to pressure the Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to form a unity government with an alternating premiership, with Netanyahu going second, if he finishes the legal proceedings and is found innocent—and to remove his desire for a fourth election.”

  • President Rivlin will consult with party leaders and by 17 March ask either Gantz or Netanyahu to try and form a Government. On the same day Netanyahu begins his criminal trial in the Jerusalem District Court.