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Israel Election Results: Netanyahu Has a Plan, Even Without a Majority

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his Likud party came in first in the general election of March 2, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his Likud party came in first in the general election of March 2, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

>> LATEST UPDATES: Netanyahu bloc down to 58 seats, three shy of majority

The counting of the ballots, including those cast in double-sealed envelopes, is expected to be over by Wednesday night. Politicians and pundits widely believe that when the final results are in, the right-wing bloc will grow to 60 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, because the Joint List of Arab parties, which is currently at 15 seats, doesn’t stand to benefit from soldiers’ votes – most of the ballots cast in double-sealed envelopes.

Bibi limps to election 'victory.' But he didn't win

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If a defector from Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan goes over and brings the right-wing bloc up to 61 seats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t have problems forming a new government. But if the center-left bloc and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu stand firm, Netanyahu might be asking the Knesset for a vote of confidence with only 60 lawmakers in his camp.

Kahlon Lavan's Moshe Ya'alon, left, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz on Election Day, March 2, 2020. Credit: Daniel Bar-On

“But let’s see them vote against, block a new government and basically drag the country to a fourth election,” a senior Likud official told Haaretz Monday night. “After all, Gantz doesn’t have a government. It’s either Netanyahu’s government or another election,” an option he said was a last resort but still on the table.

Like the other parties, Likud is waiting tensely for the final results to be announced. For the right-wing bloc, the difference between 59 and 60 seats is dramatic in more than one way. For now, efforts to bring over defectors are largely disinformation and psychological warfare by Netanyahu’s spokespeople and Likud lawmakers, hoping to pile on the pressure for someone to cross over.

As long as Likud members and people close to Netanyahu keep talking publicly about “contacts” with potential renegades, it can be assumed that they don’t exist. And maybe they will never exist.

Leaders of the right-wing Yamina alliance on Election Day, March 2, 2020: Bezalel Smotrich, left, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Rafi Peretz.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Meanwhile, the resurfacing of the scenario of a unity coalition – more accurately of a “broad coalition” because Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem have ruled out joining Netanyahu outright – is raising grave concerns in Yamina to Netanyahu’s right. This is mainly happening in Yamina’s Hayamin Hehadash faction.

People close to Hayamin Hehadash’s co-chiefs, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, believe that if Gantz and his faction within Kalon Lavan join the governing coalition with or without Gabi Ashkenazi, Netanyahu will use the opportunity to settle scores with Bennett and Shaked, his bitter rivals and his wife Sara’s hated enemies. He will either leave them out of the government or offer them minor portfolios, a far cry from the defense and justice ministries.

Bennett and Shaked’s presence in the mix – he currently in the Defense Ministry and she formerly in the Justice Ministry – remains a constant source of tension in the prime minister’s home.

“If they get out of Sara’s sight, the atmosphere on Balfour Street will be much more relaxed,” a Likud official said Monday, referring to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. “Other than staying in the prime minister’s residence, there’s nothing she wants more than revenge – though it’s not clear for what exactly – against these two.”

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