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Israel Election 2019: Will Lieberman Go All the Way With His Promise to Take Down Netanyahu?

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Avigdor Lieberman after first exit polls were released, September 17, 2019.
Avigdor Lieberman after first exit polls were released, September 17, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

It appears that all the commotion, the suspense, the money spent, and the energy invested, all of it was in vain. The entire festival of Israel's election brought us back to pretty much the same place. We already know that Avigdor Lieberman is the key figure in Israeli politics.

The only lingering question that will remain with us in the coming autumn is the same one that accompanied us during the last coalition negotiations: Will Lieberman follow through? Last time, when he saw the secular light and cleaved to the draft bill, many people were suspicious. Ultimately, and in contrast to all expectations, Lieberman did not blink, and left Netanyahu without a government. Will he do it again?

But the truth is that we are not where we were after the April election. Israel may hold a third election within a short period of time, as customary in developing countries.

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But it’s impossible to ignore that the rock that is Benjamin Netanyahu has been further eroded, and the erosion is significant. There are senior right-wing officials who believe that Lieberman is determined to bring Netanyahu down. This assessment remains to be tested. How will Lieberman react if Netanyahu suggests something crazy like a rotation government, or other treats, tempting enough to make Lieberman to abandon his firm principles? A right-wing government can then be put together within minutes, one whose boundaries stretch from loyalty tests to Arabs to apartheid-style annexation.

But if Lieberman has decided to deliver a coup de grace, we'll face an amazing domino effect, one which could very slowly unfold. Lieberman may recommend the president to task Benny Gantz with forming the next government, or present the new idea he recently spoke of in TV interviews, and demand that Likud present another candidate for prime minster.

At the moment it seems almost imaginary that Likud lawmakers Miri Regev and Amir Ohana will agree to that idea, but even the paranoid Netanyahu knows that sometimes paranoid people are right. He knows something might pop up, an emergency plan devised by his ministers, who he disdained, humiliated and trampled. The plan would involve a coup against someone who can no longer deliver the goods, and only offers an annoying dowry of an insufferable family and serious indictments (subject to a hearing, of course).

It’s safe to assume that President Reuven Rivlin will exercise his power to form a unity government to avoid a third election and ongoing chaos. A unity government will have many advantages, and is sought by Israelis who are fed up with incitement and quarrels. Its advantages would be even greater without Netanyahu being a part of it.

Unless a dramatic turnaround between the exit polls and the actual results happens, Kahol Lavan has no reason to rush into a unity government just yet. They’ve considerably improved their bargaining position in comparison to the April election.

Labor-Gesher's Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis denied claims that they’d join a Netanyahu-led government, and now they have to stand behind their commitment. This could be harder when tempting suggestions start piling up. Labor members are offended even when asked about joining Netanayhu, but sceptics, who’ve seen a thing or two in their lives, tend at moments like this to smile and say: Let’s wait and see.

Lawmakers from the Joint List of Arab parties should free themselves from the trends Balad is setting, which only plays into the hands of the right wing. Statements comparing Gantz to Netanyahu are childish and hasty.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and his colleagues should recommend Rivlin to task Gantz with the formation of the next government. As the third largest party, the Joint List must enter the political game and become a significant player, commensurate with its size.

If no significant change occurs when the actual results are released, this election has many losers, with the main ones being Benjamin Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who somehow always find themselves facing each other and didn’t go to sleep happy on Tuesday.

Netanyahu did not win the trust of the people, which would have extricated him from his legal woes. Barak stepped on a mine called Jeffrey Epstein, and didn't manage to emerge intact. If one wants to diversify in terms of gender and generation, one could add Ayelet Shaked to the list. After being crowned the next prime minister by the media, she yet again faces a much smaller number of Knesset seats than she had hoped for. There are no winners in this election.

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