Opinion

Four Days and Counting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2019.
ODED BALILTY / POOL / AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until Thursday before the time he was given by President Reuven Rivlin to form a new government runs out. As far as is known, Netanyahu has not managed to recruit the 61 Knesset members needed to form a government coalition – and it is expected that Rivlin will not grant him the two-week extension the law allows to continue his efforts. This means that within four days, for the first time since Ehud Olmert resigned in 2008 and Tzipi Livni received the opportunity to form a government – and failed – someone other than Netanyahu will receive the mandate to establish a new government in Israel. That person is named Benny Gantz.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this moment, if it comes to pass. Who remembers how it once was here, before Netanyahu? The young people don’t remember a time when the prime minister was not Netanyahu. The times before Netanyahu rest in the depths of our memories.That is why, until the task of forming the government is taken away from Netanyahu, there is no real value in speculating about the structure of the new coalition or assessments of the future actions of politicians. Netanyahu’s control of the Israeli power structure is so deep that all we know about the players – or the space for political possibilities – is colored through his filter. Until Netanyahu is removed, we will be unable to properly see the political picture.

It is customary to quote the imagery that served Amos Oz after the 1999 election, in which Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak. Oz compared Netanyahu’s departure to a compressor under the window that stops bothering you. But we cannot forget that the noise the compressor makes is just a byproduct of its real purpose. Netanyahu the compressor provided the energy that charged all the players in Israel’s political arena. Only once he leaves will we know what is their true strength.

It may be unavoidable that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is marking the days in the countdown calendar he has created in his mind – checking off every day that passes until Netanyahu’s hold on the horns of the altar will slip. On October 2 the hearing he held for Netanyahu concluded, and the decision on his criminal cases is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. It is not the same thing to decide to file an indictment against Netanyahu when he has the power to establish a government in his hands – or when this power has been handed to someone else. Without a doubt the politicians, as well as the public, will respond differently to Mendelblit’s decision depending on who at the time has the task of forming the next government, Netanyahu or Gantz.

Logic says that if Mendelblit was leaning toward not indicting Netanyahu for bribery in the Bezeq-Walla Case 4000 – in other words, if he intended to reduce the seriousness of the charges against him – he would have made the effort to do so while Netanyahu was still the candidate to establish the next government. After all, if the charge of accepting bribes is taken off the table, it is reasonable to assume that this will strengthen Netanyahu, making it easier for him to form a government and avoid the scenario of a second repeat election.

2000breach

If we judge by Netanyahu’s actions, he is counting on it. Remember, in his meeting with Rivlin about three weeks ago, Netanyahu announced it was his intention to inform the president he was unable to form a government within a few days – but he has yet to do so. What has changed? What is the logic in wasting time and waiting until the deadline?

The scenario of Netanyahu’s fall has two necessary conditions and stages: Gantz receives the mandate to form the next government, and Mendelblit decides to file indictments, including for bribery. Until then, I recommend watching three dramas: “The Likudniks,” “Incitement” and “Our Boys,” which together sketch a sober retrospective of the ugly days of Netanyahu – and provide a reminder of the burning need to rescue Israeli society from his grasp.