Analysis

With Hypocrisy, Cynicism and Venom, Israel's Third Election Season in a Year Has Begun

Unity government is off the table, unless a Netanyahu bribery indictment or a large-scale military confrontation shake things up

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 20, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Only the brave could beat back the gag reflex as they watched Israel’s top politicians launch their campaigns for the 2020 election. Hypocrisy, cynicism and sanctimony flooded the screens. Everyone portrayed himself as righteous and good-natured while shoveling dirt on his rival.

The speech Wednesday by Avigdor Lieberman wasn’t just “anti-Semitic,” as the ultra-Orthodox cried – he was also talking about the Arab legislators. But its venom competed only with the Yisrael Beiteinu leader’s self-satisfaction. The country was waiting for his statement in the hope that he’d say the crisis had been resolved, but instead of the all clear, we got a rising and falling siren.

Topping the self-righteous was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The man who spent the last week conducting a shocking incitement campaign – even by his low standards – against the Arab parties’ Joint List, was masquerading as Nelson Mandela.

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With his sweet talk he called on his colleagues not to exclude any constituency from the political arena, “Jews or non Jews” (the word “Arabs” is apparently hard for him to pronounce unless he’s linking the Arabs to Benny Gantz). In a display that borders on a psychotic lack of self-awareness he complained bitterly about “ambitions of various kinds” that prevented a unity government.

He talked about “the grip of those who aren’t willing to show leadership and do the right thing” – meaning, to accept his conditions. And he talked about the fact that Israel had turned into “a joke” and foreign leaders were asking him, “What’s going on there?”

The person who’s more responsible than anyone for the situation he described, and because of whom Israel is on the verge of its third election in 12 months, didn’t blink when he called on everyone to “step out of their fixations and rise to the occasion.”

He talks about a grip? If only he’d let go and abandon the fixation that he must be prime minister and remain in the house on Balfour Street, the blockage would be loosened and we’d have a government.

Netanyahu and Gantz both failed to form a governing coalition. What happens now?

Paralyzed Israel, the butt of many jokes, whose parliament has been nonfunctional for almost a year, is now entering territory where no man has gone before. “Anything can happen in life, especially nothing,” wrote Michel Houellebecq. Even during the next 21 days before the short-lived 22nd Knesset is dissolved, anything can happen, but especially nothing.

What will happen – and very soon – is the decision by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in the corruption cases against the prime minister. Mendelblit waited with his decision until Gantz’s mandate to form a government either expired or was returned to the president, which now has happened. Publishing the decision during the Kahol Lavan chief’s mandate would have been interpreted as interfering with the political process.

But if the bribery allegation in the Bezeq-Walla news-for-favors case isn’t erased, Netanyahu’s ability to form any kind of government before or after an election will be very doubtful. Only the High Court will be able to decide the matter. But if Bibi “only” faces charges of fraud and breach of trust, his situation in the next election will improve.

In any case, the option of a national-unity government is no longer on the table. Only a serious military confrontation in the north involving Iran and/or Hezbollah might accomplish what a thousand outlines, compromise proposals and substantive or ridiculous ideas couldn’t in the past two months – not during Netanyahu’s 28 days or Gantz’s.