A day before his mandate to form a government runs out, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz has still not succeeded in putting together a coalition that will enable him to serve as prime minister – and is hoping that the fear of another election will lead his potential partners to compromise.
The cards he is holding are not very promising, and in Kahol Lavan they do not have high expectations they will be able to present coalition agreements signed by the necessary number of MKs by the deadline at midnight on Wednesday.
If no progress is made in the talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and if Avigdor Lieberman remains adamant in his refusal to join a government supported by the Arab-majority Joint List alliance, Gantz will lose his mandate – and the power to decide will move to the Knesset. What could happen next?
Compromise with Likud
A unity government with Likud was, and still is, Gantz’s preferred alternative. For this to happen, he will have to demonstrate flexibility on matters that were discussed endlessly over the past few weeks. Will he let Netanyahu serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement? Will Netanyahu declare he is incapacitated as soon as he is indicted, or only when his trial begins? Will Kahol Lavan sit in a coalition with the right-wing bloc?
Joining Netanyahu’s coalition, alongside Bezalel Smotrich and the ultra-Orthodox parties, would violate Gantz’s election promises, and his partners Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon would find it hard to accept.
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Lieberman’s support for a narrow government
Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday that he does not know if he would prefer to join a narrow government or lead Israel to a third election. In Kahol Lavan and Likud, there are those who saw this statement as an opening to form such a government, a possibility which Lieberman has not been willing to openly support so far. As far as Kahol Lavan is concerned, however, this is a tactical step intended to allow Likud rebels to come out against Netanyahu before joining a Gantz government.
“Gantz is being held captive in Lieberman’s hands, who is not willing to allow him to put together the option of a minority government for now,” said sources in Kahol Lavan. A Likud minister cast doubt on the feasibility of the scenario of a minority government. For now, it is more likely that Lieberman will prefer to betray his voters and join a narrow right-wing coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, and not a left-wing government supported by Arab MKs, he added.
Desertions on the right
Over the past few weeks, Gantz’s people have tried to find potential deserters from the right-wing bloc. Those who were first marked as the weak link in the chain on the right were Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Kahol Lavan was in contact with them for a long time and Gantz had presented them with an enticing offer, but in the end Bennett decided to take himself out of the game and join Netanyahu in return for the defense portfolio and a merger between Hayamin Hehadash and Likud. The chances that Gantz will succeed in enlisting other members of the bloc seem rather poor.
A political maneuver to buy time
Theoretically, Gantz can extend his mandate for another week: The Basic Law on the Government allows the speaker of the Knesset to call a session for the swearing in of the new government only a week after the presumptive new prime minister declares he is able to form one. Gantz could extract an agreement in principle from his partners now to join his government, inform Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of the situation and artificially extend the negotiations for another week. But this maneuver would only pay off for him if he is confident that the chances of completing the job are high. It is otherwise unlikely that Gantz would want to take such a risk of failure and the badge of shame that stuck to Shimon Peres after the “dirty trick” attempt to form a minority government in 1990.