The political situation will become clear only when the final election results are made public. At this stage, with 97 percent of the vote tallied, Likud has won 36 Knesset seats and Kahol Lavan 32; the right-wing bloc has won 59 seats to the center-left’s 54, not including the seats gained by Avigdor Lieberman’s party. What this means is that as of now – contrary to the impression left by the exit polls on Monday – Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t have the 61 seats he needs to form a right-wing coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
As in the last two elections, the political stalemate again raises the possibility of negotiating a national unity coalition. This idea must be rejected outright. The stalemate that has dragged Israel into elections three times in a single year isn’t a fluke. It is the result of Netanyahu’s unprecedented legal situation, and the understanding shared by most Knesset members that it is intolerable for a person accused of a crime to head Israel’s government.
Therefore, this is a moment of truth for Benny Gantz and for each and every member of Kahol Lavan and Labor-Gesher-Meretz, who have publicly committed again and again, campaign after campaign, that they will not take part in a government that includes defendant Netanyahu.
Both parties won the seats they did thanks to their members’ commitment to prevent Netanyahu from leading the country while managing his criminal defense. Their supporters have voted for them to stop Netanyahu from eliminating the state’s gatekeepers, from crippling the Supreme Court, disrupting the system of checks and balances and damaging democracy in order to extricate himself from the hands of justice.
Netanyahu and his natural allies are trying to present the election as a referendum on his innocence. This shows a gross misunderstanding of democracy. A person’s innocence isn’t decided in the polling booths. Only the courts have the authority to rule if Netanyahu is innocent or guilty.
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However, it can’t be denied that by voting for him, Netanyahu’s supporters demonstrated a distrust in the rule of law and its enforcement in Israel. Nevertheless, forming a unity government led by a criminal defendant isn’t the way to rehabilitate the trust of half of the public in the justice system. If anything, it will guarantee the distrust of the other half in the political system.
Kahol Lavan and its leaders must stand by the promise they made to the voters. They must reject any plan to join Netanyahu and they must make it clear that a prime minister accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust doesn’t have the moral license to stay in office. Whoever chooses to go over to Netanyahu’s side, whether he or she is an individual Knesset member or an entire party, will have betrayed the voters’ trust and the values they were elected to represent.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.