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Netanyahu calls for unity government with Gantz

What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this morning for a broad national unity government with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, less than a day after Netanyahu claimed he had formed a bloc with his right-wing allies. The official vote count in the Israeli election should be completed later today but with 97 percent of ballots counted (although not yet verified) neither the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud (55 seats) nor the centre-left bloc led by Gantz’s Blue and White (57 seats) can reach a 61-seat parliamentary majority without the support of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party (8 seats).

  • Blue and White now holds a two seat lead over Likud (33 to 31).
  • Votes from soldiers, hospital workers and diplomats (so-called ‘double envelopes’) are set to be counted by tonight, although no real change in the balance of the blocs is likely. Historically these votes represent a broad spectrum of Zionist parties – neither Arab-Israeli or ultra-Orthodox – which cancel each other out. These ‘double envelopes’ make up 5.5 per cent of the overall vote, roughly translating to 6 to 7 seats.
  • Netanyahu convened a meeting of all his potential right-wing allies yesterday and declared that they would be entering coalition talks as one single unit. The move was viewed as a negotiating tactic and not a serious bid to form a government, as the bloc still does not have a realistic path to reach a parliamentary majority. This was before today’s call for a national unity government that would, by necessity, have to jettison these right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Context: The dead-locked election raised fears of a third (repeat) election. Whilst Gantz and Lieberman have said repeatedly that their goal is to form a broad, secular national unity government with Likud, the main stumbling block is Blue and White’s stated opposition to forming a government with Netanyahu due to his impending corruption indictments.

  • The option for Netanyahu of bringing in the Labour-Gesher alliance seemed to evaporate yesterday when party chair Amir Peretz again rejected the idea, saying the Prime Minister should not bother calling him.
  • Ayelet Shaked, head of the Yamina party, said the idea of a right-wing bloc was not yet final and would be “considered based on political developments”.
  • Haaretz reported this morning that two prominent Blue and White politicians said they may consider serving in a government with Netanyahu in order to avoid a third election.

Looking ahead: Once the election returns are finalised the coalition talks will begin in earnest.

  • With no easy path for Gantz or Netanyahu to form a government, President Reuven Rivlin may have to get more actively involved in the process in order to avoid a third election.
  • Israeli political leaders will now engage in complex negotiations in which a series of creative solutions will start to appear in the media as well as stories about potential coalitions, rotating Prime Ministers, party splits and policy compromises. Some will be the result of real talks and others designed as part of the negotiation tactics to force a deal.
  • But analysts are predicting that the proceedings could last months. In one extreme scenario, unprecedented in Israeli history, three different party leaders could be tasked with forming a government and fail to do so – the last of whom would be at the end of December – after which the Knesset would automatically dissolve and elections called again.
  • Here are a few creative scenarios that could emerge:
  1. Blue and White form a grand coalition with Yisrael Beitenu and Likud – Gantz agrees a rotating Prime Minister deal with Netanyahu and Lieberman becomes Deputy Prime Minister.
  2. Likud and Yisrael Beitenu do a deal and form a right-wing ultra-Orthodox coalition in which Lieberman becomes Prime Minister after two years.
  3. Likud decide to replace Netanyahu. Their new leader forms a grand coalition with Blue and White (with or without Yisrael Beitenu). They agree a rotating Prime Minister deal.