Another Israeli Election, Unity or a Palace Coup: What Could Follow Lieberman's Ultimatum

Six possible scenarios for Israel's next government

PM Netanyahu, President Rivlin and Blue and White party leader Gantz, attend a memorial ceremony for Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, September 19, 2019.
RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Avigdor Lieberman’s statement on Saturday night on Israel’s Channel 12 News had the political world spinning on Sunday as both Kahol Lavan and Likud are trying to understand: What does the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman want?

Likud thinks that Lieberman is persisting with his plan to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to this end, he’ll blame him for a third election or for establishing a leftist government with the support of the Arab-majority Joint List. In Kahol Lavan, they’re wondering whether Lieberman is actually preparing hearts and minds to backtrack on his pledge not to be part of an ultra-Orthodox government.

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The possible scenarios:

A unity government – Lieberman’s declared goal is a unity government and he has issued his ultimatum so as to form such a government. On the other hand, the sides don’t need Lieberman to declare a unity government, but are having trouble doing it. The main reason is the bad blood between the sides. Kahol Lavan doesn’t believe Netanyahu’s word. And Likud thinks that the more time that passes, the easier it will be to bend Kahol Lavan. The current situation is that the negotiating teams are discussing various versions of President Reuven Rivlin’s plan, that is, when Netanyahu would leave office and what the guarantees would be that he will do so. 

At the same time, Benny Gantz and his co-leader in Kahol Lavan MK Yair Lapid disagree over what to do. Gantz is willing to go for an improved Rivlin plan with significant guarantees; Lapid will not sit with Netanyahu at any price, including dismantling Kahol Lavan. Lieberman’s declaration can be a catalyst for compromise between Likud and Kahol Lavan, although this is unlikely.

A center-left government plus Joint List – If Gantz says yes to Lieberman’s demand and Netanyahu says no, what will apparently happen is that Lieberman will supposedly make good on his threat and support Gantz. The only government that Gantz can establish would consist of Kahol Lavan, Joint List, Labor-Gesher and Meretz, and Lieberman can decide to absent himself from the vote or support it. This is Netanyahu's nightmare scenario, as it would have him pack up and leave the official Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem in the next two weeks.

This move would be very surprising, given that Lieberman has led the fascist, racist line against the Joint List for a decade. In interviews, Yisrael Beiteinu has refused to say whether they would support such a government, and its representatives claim that there are “other options.” But even if Lieberman and Gantz agree on such a wedding, the bride – Joint List – has yet to be heard from. And Gantz’s annoying uncles, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, object to such a government and have threatened to vote against it.

A government headed by Gantz without the Joint List – if the Joint List abstains in the vote, the result would be 55 seats for Likud, the ultra-Orthodox, Habayit Hayehudi and Hayamin Hehadash and 52 for Kakol Lavan and its allies. Two MKs would have to be moved left to establish a government. That’s why Netanyahu offered the Defense Ministry to MK Naftali Bennett and unified their two parties. Yisrael Beiteinu claims that it can bring in a party from the right-wing bloc or two MKs to bolt the bloc. But a sober assessment shows that the chances of this are nil.

A Likud-ultra-Orthodox-Lieberman government – If Gantz says no to Lieberman and Netanyahu says yes, Lieberman could supposedly enter such a government. Netanyahu will not say no, but he’s trying to lay the groundwork and pressure the ultra-Orthodox to compromise on matters of state and religion. As of now, Interior Minister Aryeh Dery (Shas) and MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) are presenting a unified front of zero compromises to Lieberman on this issue. It’s hard to believe that Lieberman has taken the country into such chaos, and broken up the national camp to go back to square one with Netanyahu at the head. His conduct since the elections shows that he intends to unseat Netanyahu, not strengthen him. And so this scenario is not likely.

Netanyahu voted out of the Likud chairmanship and a unity government formed – As of now, Netanyahu has unchallenged control of Likud. Even MKs Avi Dichter and Yoav Galant, at whom Netanyahu spit last week, are dancing in the puddle and calling it rain. To unseat Netanyahu, the Likud Central Committee has to meet and vote by a majority of 60 percent to hold a primary. In the little time that remains, this can’t happen. The possibility that former Likud Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, now a Netanyahu rival, will lead a rebellion in the party in coordination with Gantz and Lieberman also seems unlikely for now. Sa’ar certainly intends to challenge Netanyahu in a primary, but not turn the party upside down. The chance of such a move in the coming month is the least likely of all.

Another election – Taking steps in the political sphere right now is like trying to neutralize a sophisticated bomb. If one wire is cut, the other two will blow up the device. There are too many players in the arena, with too much hate, conflict, and bad blood, and it’s very difficult to bridge all sides. All of the recent events can be seen not as an attempt to establish a government, but as an attempt to blame the rivals for not establishing a government in order to make political hay. In the opinion of this writer, the chance of a new election is the most likely of all the scenarios.