The only thing that’s clear from the three exit polls published Tuesday night is that Israel is stuck. Neither of the blocs can declare victory, and the possibility of a fifth election hasn’t been taken off the table. It’s not yet clear whether the public gave Benjamin Netanyahu the coveted 61 Knesset seats that would enable him to form a government of horrors, a “totally right-wing” government.
But even that scenario assumes that Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, whose party won seven or eight seats in the exit polls, is Netanyahu’s natural partner. And that’s not true. It’s hard to know what Bennett is planning. Until the final moments of the campaign, he was careful to leave both his options open – either serving in a government led by Netanyahu or forming a government with Yair Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar. Shortly before the finish line, he changed this approach and promised not to serve in a government led by Lapid. But after the exit polls were released, he said, “I’ll do only what’s good for Israel.”
Bennett doesn’t need anyone to tell him that power has corrupted Netanyahu and that his continued rule, including his willingness to destroy the institutions of government to save himself from the hands of the law, isn’t “good for Israel,” to say the least. Can one therefore conclude from Bennett’s statement that he doesn’t intend to give Netanyahu the final seats he needs to form a government?
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The good news is that Meretz, Labor and Kahol Lavan not only passed the electoral threshold but did so comfortably, with at least six seats apiece and apparently even more. The bad news is that the right grew stronger, and that even if the country is clearly split in two about Netanyahu, from an ideological standpoint, the left is still in bad shape. The unabashedly right-wing views of many Knesset members in the anti-Netanyahu bloc make them good candidates to desert to Netanyahu’s bloc, their natural political home. We can only hope that when Netanyahu tries to entice them, they, as well as Bennett and his colleagues in Yamina, will remember who they’re dealing with and what is at stake.
Bennett, his Yamina colleagues and all the rightists in the “anyone but Bibi camp” have a responsibility to stop Netanyahu, who won’t hesitate to use any means to escape justice. They must prevent the governing coalition of his dreams, which would be the most extremist, nationalist and benighted in Israel’s history, with an agenda that includes firing Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, halting the legal proceedings against Netanyahu, destroying the institutions of government, castrating the High Court of Justice and nullifying the gatekeepers. This is a battle for the country, and we must hope they will choose to be on the right side of history.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.