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Israel Election Results: Political Deadlock Puts Netanyahu, Rivals to the Test of Pragmatism

Netanyahu may not be able to form a government without Islamist party leader, but far-right politicians agreeing to join a coalition with him seems fantastical

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud's campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on election night.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud's campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on election night.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The argument over whether Mansour Abbas should be asked to join a governing coalition is dividing the Likud party. The debate is raging on WhatsApp groups, where a clear majority is opposed, and also among Likud Knesset members.

MKs Tzachi Hanegbi and David Bitan aren’t ruling the idea out. Miki Zohar and Shlomo Karhi oppose it. Differences of opinion! It’s hard to believe this is Bibistan.

Zohar, incidentally, changed his mind from against to for within a few hours. The first time, he said what he really thinks, and what his boss said during the campaign. He was forced to tweet the correction by a dictate from the prime minister’s residence.

But opposition from within Likud isn’t the main obstacle to parliamentary cooperation with the United Arab List and relying on it to form a government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also has partners, the heads of the party that calls itself Religious Zionism – namely, Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avi Maoz.

The first two are slated to serve as ministers. A scenario in which they would take their oaths of office thanks to the abstention of Islamist Arab MKs is fantastical. They aren’t pragmatists like Netanyahu.

Israel election 2021 final results.

It’s no less fantastical to imagine the United Arab List enabling this. Abbas may have already crossed the Rubicon, but he dwells among his people. And his people might well be furious with him. It could end very badly.

The heads of all the main parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc have spoken with each other over the past day. They are all willing to go above and beyond to put an end to the Netanyahu era.

But they’re still waiting for Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, and he is waiting for the final vote count, which could change the balance between the blocs. Paradoxically, with just seven Knesset seats, Bennett is theoretically closer than ever before to the Prime Minister’s Office. Two weeks ago, in private talks Bennett pledged that, as long as it was up to him, there would be no fifth election. That commitment still stands, even today.

“We’ll all have to make painful compromises to form a government for a specified time period – a year to a year and a half – that will focus solely on rehabilitating the economy,” one of the leaders of the anti-Bibi bloc said in a private conversation. “I personally would agree. But if this isn’t possible and we embark on a fifth election, we’ll make an effort to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin on the very day the Knesset is sworn in, and then we’ll start enacting legislation that would prevent a criminal defendant from forming a government.”

United Arab List head Mansour Abbas on election day on Tuesday.Credit: Gil Eliahu

As reported here a few weeks ago, President Reuven Rivlin intends to use the full time allotted him by law before summoning the party leaders to find out who they recommend as prime minister. The deadline for asking someone to form a government is April 7 at midnight. Rivlin could start consulting the party leaders a day or two earlier, on April 5.

Something else will happen in Jerusalem that same day – the resumption of Netanyahu’s trial, featuring testimony by the first prosecution witness. Perhaps we’ll see a split screen on television. On the right will be the courthouse on Salah Al-Din Street in East Jerusalem. On the left will be the President’s Residence on Hanasi Street, in the western part of the city.

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