Opinion

The Government That Israel Must Have

Benny Gantz at a press conference after the election, Tel Aviv, September 19, 2019.
Jack Guez / AFP

What did the election achieve? First, for the first time in a decade, there appears to be a realistic possibility of removing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power. The achievement of a bloc – 56 or 57 Knesset seats including the Joint List of Arab parties or 63 to 65 seats adding on Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu – makes this possible.

Second, at the last minute both Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher stayed above the electoral threshold. Their absence from the Knesset would have guaranteed Netanyahu a bloc of at least 61 MKs and paved the way for another right-wing government with him at the helm.

The importance of this result cannot be exaggerated; Israeli democracy this week was only a few inches from being Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. And the threat to its existence hasn’t been totally lifted: a government led by Netanyahu – who’s fighting desperately to escape the wrath of justice – designed to pass a law letting the Knesset override Supreme Court rulings, thereby neutering the court and establishing a dictatorship. In other words, a regime in which a person, or small group of people, control all three branches of government: the executive, legislature and judiciary.

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Now what’s left is to finish the revolution by forming a government without Netanyahu, one that will force Likud to carry out a leadership change. It’s clear how many of his ministers and Knesset members want that. This is a job that requires strong nerves, maneuvering, political sophistication and patience. But it’s an essential and possible mission.

The hearing in Netanyahu’s corruption cases is scheduled for October 2 and 3. No government will be formed before the end of October, so if Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is determined to put an end to the circus Netanyahu has been conducting against the law enforcement authorities for months, he should simply announce at the end of the hearing that he intends to file indictments even before the end of October.

Even before a final verdict is rendered, such an announcement would create a new legal situation, because the existing law lets a sitting prime minister serve even under indictment. But I haven’t heard a single legal expert who claims the president can ask a person to form the next government after it has been decided – after a hearing – that he’s to be indicted for serious crimes and whose trial is about to begin.

This is why the front mentioned above: Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, Democratic Union, Labor and the Joint List – 63 MKs – must unanimously recommend that Gantz form the next government. Rivlin will be obligated to ask Gantz to do so. Gantz will begin his negotiations to build a coalition, and even before the end of the four weeks he’s allotted, Netanyahu will find himself under indictment.

This new situation will rescue his “supporters” from their ordeal, force them to say farewell to him and force him to leave his post. If, for example, Mendelblit’s decision to file indictments – even if only in some of the cases – is announced before October 22, Gantz can – as part of the custom to grant him two more weeks to form a government – negotiate over a broad unity government led by the center-left. That’s a government in which Likud too – without Netanyahu – could take part.

If Mendelblit doesn’t completely melt under the mafia-like pressure Netanyahu and his people are applying, final decisions – as he has said – are due before December 17, the scheduled date for the retirement of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. He must keep to this timetable to prevent a rerun of the farce of the appointment of the state comptroller.

If the decision on filing indictments is made only in December, this will require the forming of a government headed by Gantz even earlier, by early November, in which Lieberman and the Joint List sit together – or alternatively, the formation of a minority government with the Joint List’s support from the outside. These aren’t the only possibilities, but the further we move from the basic version, the more complicated they become.

Netanyahu isn’t a nobody, he has impressive achievements and deserves a lot of credit. But his time is up. Recent events have proved that this talented man has lost his balance and brakes – and the time has come to say goodbye. Israel knows how to demand an accounting from him, and knows how to thank him. But our future must be left in the hands of a new government led by Gantz. This is the government that must be formed.