Editorial

Close Ranks and Don’t Be Tempted

Even if another election seems a high-price to pay, the left cannot let Netanyahu get another term

A campaign poster for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party in Bnei Brak, September 17, 2019.
Oded Balilty,AP

After President Reuven Rivlin failed in his effort to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz to form a unity government, he assigned the task of forming the government to Netanyahu.

In his speech, Rivlin revealed the secret outline he had drawn up especially for Netanyahu and his three pending indictments, subject to the hearing that will take place next week. His proposal was that a government be formed in which no bloc has an advantage over the other, and that would amend the law to give much broader authority to the MK designated vice-premier and to lengthen the time limit, currently 100 days, of the prime minister’s incapacity, i.e., inability to perform his duties, before he must resign.

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It’s clear that Rivlin went out of his way to prepare for a situation in which Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit would decide to indict Netanyahu after his hearing. But this approach, aimed at forcing the formation of a unity government, seeks to subordinate the state to the legal predicament of the man at its helm. Instead of trying to bend reality to impose a unity government, it would have been better if Rivlin had taken a step back and sufficed with fulfilling the president’s traditional role: giving the task to the candidate with the better chance.

The political impasse Israel faces is no coincidence and cannot be artificially resolved. It expresses a real difficulty stemming from the prime minister’s legal troubles, which led him and his partners to sabotage the state’s laws, institutions and values in an effort to help him evade justice. Rivlin is meant to protect the state from such assaults, not serve as the national mediator because “the people don’t want new elections.”

After a whole term of pitting different parts of society against one another, inciting against the Arab minority, the left, civil society organizations, the police, prosecution, media, legal system, gatekeepers, State Comptroller’s Office, attorney general and the president, Netanyahu stood up Wednesday evening and without a trace of shame dared to preach to the public about the need for national reconciliation, unity and standing firm against the enormous diplomatic and security challenges, whether it be Iran or U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.” 

Less than six months ago Netanyahu was given the opportunity to form a government and failed to do so. He even refused to return the mandate to the president and allow another candidate to try to form a government. Nevertheless, he has been given another opportunity now. Hopefully he will fail again. To that end, the left-wing bloc must close ranks and persist in its refusal to be part of a government led by a criminal defendant (subject to a hearing), even if the price is another election. It’s time for Netanyahu to leave the stage.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.