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Three Scenarios for How Israel's Coalition Crisis Will End

With the former defense minister and the prime minister apparently stuck in a stalemate, here are some ways the situation could develop

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a Cabinet meeting, May 2019.
File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a Cabinet meeting, May 2019. Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The authority that President Reuven Rivlin gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government expires as the clock Wednesday strikes midnight. By then, Netanyahu must inform Rivlin that he “has managed” to form a government. He doesn't have to provide proof, and by law he has another week to present his government to the Knesset and ask for a vote of confidence in it.

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If he says nothing to Rivlin by midnight, and if the Knesset hasn't voted to dissolve itself by then, Netanyahu’s mandate expires and the president will try to find someone else to form a government. The following are three scenarios for what could happen.

Scenario I: Netanyahu fails but the right-wing parties stick with him

Likelihood: Relatively high

The prime minister’s support among the right-wing parties is stable. Even Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, whose firm stance on drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army has put it at the center of the gridlock, has made clear that it will only support Netanyahu as prime minister; otherwise it prefers a new election.

Once the deadline passes, Rivlin will begin consultations with the party heads in an effort to find another candidate to form a government. But if Netanyahu’s partners stand fast in their support of him, Rivlin will discover that no one else has a chance to form a cabinet. He will then recommend to the speaker that the Knesset be dissolved and a new election held.

If this occurs, 61 lawmakers who support a Netanyahu government can write to the president and insist they support his candidacy. If such a letter is crafted, Rivlin would probably give Netanyahu another two weeks to form a coalition.

Scenario II: Netanyahu’s nightmare: Right-wing parties defect to Gantz

Likelihood: Relatively low

When Rivlin begins consultations with the party heads to find another candidate, he can choose from either the left or right, even if the candidate doesn’t have a clear Knesset majority behind him. Thus Rivlin could tap the head of the centrist Kahol Lavan party, Benny Gantz.

Gantz might then try to persuade some of Netanyahu’s natural allies to support a coalition headed by him. For example, he might propose to Lieberman to set up a secular government that would advance the bill to draft the ultra-Orthodox. This scenario, whose likelihood is low, is the nightmare scenario spurring Netanyahu to dissolve the Knesset and go to an election.

Scenario III: Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox back down and join the coalition

Likelihood: Unknown

Lawmakers from both the coalition and opposition have been ensconced in the Knesset since the debate on dissolving the legislature began at noon Wednesday. It’s possible that the Knesset will be dissolved Wednesday night, but it’s also possible that a solution will be found and a coalition formed within a few days.

Under this scenario, either Lieberman will agree to a compromise or at least agree to defer the crisis to when the bill on the draft comes up for a vote, or the ultra-Orthodox parties will blink and agree to Lieberman’s terms on the issue. Or perhaps Netanyahu will surprise everyone with some new option.

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