The political gridlock serves Benjamin Netanyahu well, since as long as no new government is formed, he continues to serve as caretaker prime minister. A victory or a tie leave him in power, not because he’s a magician but because he’s an incumbent prime minister. In fact, Israel’s situation over the last two years, with its four elections that have not allowed any side to form a government, has been a bonanza for Netanyahu. This is so even without regard to his legal woes.
Netanyahu has found a ploy that lets him rule endlessly, taking advantage of a lacuna in the structure of our democracy that allows him to be a temporary prime minister forever. All he needs to do is to cast the state into an endless cycle of elections, dragging the country into each one under one false pretext or another, groaning about an “inability to govern.” For a temporary prime minister, an unresolved electoral result ensures that he always remains in power. Netanyahu is the default prime minister.
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But this whole setup is predicated on his remaining the incumbent leader. If Benny Gantz were to replace him for even five minutes, even as a temporary prime minister, before an election, the political logjam would stop working in Netanyahu’s favor. Gantz would then replace him as the default prime minister.
The way things are now, if no new government is formed, Gantz will become the caretaker prime minister in November in accordance with the rotation agreement he signed with Netanyahu. Based on timetables and political projections, it seems a fifth election will already have happened by November. So in order to change the default option for prime minister, we’ll need another election after which, again, no one will be able to form a government.
From what we know about Netanyahu, we can assume that as soon as the political Gordian Knot no longer serves him, another solution will be found. As he’s fond of saying, “When I want something, it comes to pass.” Likud will understand that it may be stuck forever with a temporary prime minister from the other camp, so it would serve the party better to renew itself. Beyond the importance of changing the default option so that the political crisis stops benefiting Netanyahu, it would be best for Israel if the rotation agreement were implemented and Gantz became the temporary prime minister.
One should not ignore the way Gantz was deceived. It was not only Gantz who was scammed when Netanyahu placed a landmine in the shape of the state budget in the coalition agreement, a clause that was aimed at foiling the rotation from ever taking place. Netanyahu defrauded everyone. When he prevented the approval of the state budget, he wasn’t trying to con Gantz personally; he didn’t seize his bank accounts, but hijacked the budget issue for the purpose of political negotiations.
Netanyahu’s actions weren’t misdeeds directed against another individual, but malfeasance by one person against an entire society. He didn’t make a commitment just to Gantz, but sold the public an illusion that he would work toward healing and unity during a state of emergency, and would refrain from any tricks. This national pact was ushered in with a best man (President Reuven Rivlin) and two guarantors (Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman). One cannot move on in the face of such deception, which in effect means that nothing has any value and that agreements do not bind Netanyahu, they only constitute a continuation of his war and deception through other means.
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Netanyahu’s minions are already at work. Likud lawmaker Shlomo Karhi and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rotman have already submitted a bill calling to cancel the rotation agreement and the alternate prime minister post. They need 61 Knesset members to change the law. One can only hope they don’t have such a majority and that parties on the left and right join to defend the rotation agreement. Not for Gantz, but for the sake of rehabilitating some faith in reality. Anyone who views Netanyahu’s actions only as a personal attack against Gantz is contributing to the entrenchment of the distortion of political codes of behavior.