The prevailing claim in the pro-Netanyahu camp that there’s no decision and we must go to a third election is based on the assumption that Benny Gantz is not Benjamin Netanyahu – in other words, that he has restraint. If the situation with the Knesset seats had been reversed, Netanyahu would have sworn in a government without getting hung up on the restraints that are holding Gantz back.
We should recall that after the April election, Netanyahu offered the United Arab List, the Islamic faction of Joint List, several incentives to have its two lawmakers absent themselves from the vote confirming his government. Netanyahu was prepared to sell his entire political agenda to Avi Gabbay and all the senior positions to Kahol Lavan. There wasn’t a single principle or position that wasn’t for sale. In fact, they are still for sale, if anyone would buy them.
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Let us sketch out a scenario that isn’t particularly imaginary. In the first stage, Gantz proposes Likud a unity government in which the latter gets 10 portfolios, including the Defense and Finance ministries, and in the second half of the term, the premiership. For senior Likud members like Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan and Yuli Edelstein, that would be a dream. In theory, it gives Netanyahu a chance as well, allowing him to conclude his legal issues without moral turpitude during the first two years, as a member of the Knesset, and return to the premiership in 2021.
Let’s say that nevertheless, Netanyahu rejects this suggestion. The next stop for Gantz would be Avigdor Lieberman. You see, Gantz would say, I offered them everything, but Netanyahu only understands force. Let’s swear in a minority government with the support of the Joint List; we’ll wait a couple of months, the legal process will force Netanyahu to resign, and we’ll form a unity government with Likud’s new leader. The Arab support will not be enough to provide a majority for evacuating the settlements, just enough to release the pressure, since Netanyahu clogged up the system.
The Arabs won’t be thrilled to vote for a government with Lieberman in it. On the other hand: chairing the Knesset Interior Committee and another committee as well, appointing an Arab minister to the government, amending the Nation-State Law and a series of civic reforms could enable Ayman Odeh to realize what he’s been talking about for years: integration into the coalition and a seat at the table, even if it isn’t the Cabinet.
Let’s say that doesn’t work, either. Gantz still has another interesting option: Swearing in a government of Kahol Lavan, the Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher – 44 seats altogether – with the support of the Joint List from the outside. Together that’s 57 seats, more than the 55 in the right-wing bloc. To succeed, Gantz would have to persuade Lieberman to abstain in the vote of confidence. The government would be sworn in and start to govern, Netanyahu will be shunted aside, and then we can have some stability.
True, a government of 44 seats is problematic, but Netanyahu wouldn’t hesitate for a minute. First of all you swear in the government and get into the Prime Minister’s Office, then everything will work itself out. Hesitating and worrying endlessly about what people will say and what history will remember is characteristic of those who have never served as prime minister.
In 2008 Tzipi Livni had the opportunity to form a government, but Shas was demanding an additional billion shekels (around $278 million at the time) for child allowances. Livni wouldn’t agree. Her finance minister, Roni Bar-On, threatened to resign. I recall that I said to her then, and publicly as well: “Ms. Livni, bang on the table and tell MK Eli Yishai, ‘I am not prepared to give you a shekel less than a billion and a half!’ How many people have the opportunity to be prime minister of Israel? Netanyahu, I said, was laughing at the fact that there was even a dispute. He would have given them three times as much over the phone.
But Livni was not convinced, and Israel went to an election instead. And after that election Netanyahu gave Shas a lot more than a billion shekels for child allowances.
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