If You Think the Israeli Election Campaign Was Revolting, Just Wait for When Netanyahu Wins

Just wait until 10:05 P.M. Tuesday when the coalition-building negotiations begin. Six comments on what was, and what could be

Volunteers working on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party at work on election eve, April 8, 2019.
Gil Cohen-Magen

At 10 P.M. Tuesday night we’ll turn the page, and everything that was shouted, written, broadcast and rehashed ad nauseam for the past 106 days will be erased as if it never existed.

If this election campaign was one of the ugliest ever, the coalition negotiations between the party forming the government and its six or seven potential partners, which will begin at 10:05 P.M., will make many people miss the campaign.

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The coalition negotiations take place in two stages: before the president tasks someone with forming a government, and afterward. The first goal is to get 61 MKs to recommend you to be prime minister. If that happens, the president will have no discretion. If no candidate garners an absolute majority of votes from the MKs, the job still goes to the one with the most support.

These aren’t just “recommendations.” The president must take into account those who are promising to be part of the next coalition, not those who are merely seeking to block the rival candidate. And the Arab MKs aren’t relevant for a coalition. In other words, under almost any circumstances, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will have the best chance of forming a viable government.

The results may be clear as soon as the exit polls are publicized, assuming they match the latest survey results, which gave the rightist-religious bloc a clear majority. But if this trend is reversed in the 96 hours that have elapsed between last Friday and Election Day, then all bets are off and the field will be wide open.

A few final comments:

* More than ever before, the electoral threshold (3.25 percent) is critical. Many parties are a hair's breadth away – seven in the Likud-led bloc and two in the leftist bloc. In 1996, Netanyahu won his first election by a single percentage point due to a below-average turnout among Arab voters. In 2019, he could win a fifth time for the same reason.

* If he does win and gets the nod from the president, we’ll witness an unprecedented political, legal and personal drama. The man who called for an early election to keep the attorney general from deciding what to do about the criminal cases against him (it didn’t work) will strive to form a coalition that will extricate him from the threat of having to stand trial.

All means will be kosher, all boundaries will be crossed. Legislation barring the indictment of sitting prime ministers – the so-called French Law – probably won’t pass. But reviving the old parliamentary immunity law, which would make indicting him harder, is an easier task.

Netanyahu's numerous interviews in recent days have only one purpose: garnering at least 30 seats for Likud, and thereby entering the decisive Knesset battle for his freedom in as strong a position as possible.

* Kahol Lavan is already an enormous achievement. A party that didn’t exist until two months ago, created from scratch, may well win the largest number of votes.

Its leader, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, is a mirror image of Netanyahu. In a direct election, he’d have the better chance of winning, but the system of voting blocs works to his detriment.

He and the ticket’s other leaders – Gabi Ashkenazi, Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid – may have to spend a long time in opposition. It’s hard to imagine that four serious people who repeatedly and publicly pledged not to sit with Netanyahu would break their word, spit in their voters’ faces and make laughingstocks of themselves.

* Netanyahu is heading into Election Day full of apprehension. He’s suspicious of the president and fears that some of his potential coalition partners – Moshe Kahlon, Moshe Feiglin and/or Avigdor Lieberman – will desert to the rival camp.

Feiglin is a wild card, and Lieberman is a joker in his own right. His good relations with Lapid are no secret, and he never said a bad word about Gantz during the campaign. What’s less well known is Lieberman's close relationship with Ashkenazi, whom he frequently consulted while serving as defense minister. Kahol Lavan is counting on him, but apparently in vain. The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman’s natural home is on the right.

*Over the past two days, Netanyahu’s “save me” campaign has at least been working on the other side of the political map. People vacillating between Labor and Kahol Lavan say he sounds convincing: The size of the largest party is what will matter. On Monday, Avi Gabbay’s Labor Party saw voters begin to move toward Gantz – not yet to the dramatic extent that Habayit Hayehudi voters moved to Likud in 2015, but enough to sow panic.

*A government with Feiglin as finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich as education minister, Yariv Levin as justice minister and Miri Regev as public security minister is a possibility. Some people are hoping for it and others are terrified by it.

Some are also hoping that President Reuven Rivlin will summon the two Benjamins, Netanyahu and Gantz, and urge them to join forces. Under certain circumstances, Rivlin could become a key player.