No Refuge for a Scofflaw PM

Kahol Lavan has succeeded in presenting an alternative to a Likud government under Netanyahu

Netanyahu at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 10, 2019.

The contradictions between the exit polls of the three news channels on Tuesday night do not give us a clear picture of the election results. It is still uncertain which is the largest party and what is the shape of the blocs.

Another missing piece of information making it difficult to know the wishes of the Israeli voter is the number of parties that did not pass the electoral threshold.

And so it comes as no surprise that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz declared victory after the exit polls were released.

But what clearly emerges from all the exit polls – besides the crash of the Labor Party – is that Kahol Lavan has succeeded in presenting an alternative to a Likud government under Netanyahu. The party that was put together only a few weeks ago has managed to become the largest party, or at least the same size as the ruling party. The obvious conclusion is that many Israelis are fed up with the nightmare rule of a criminal suspect, a prime minister with no restraint who, during his 10 years in office, has brought Israeli democracy down to the depths.

>> Netanyahu and Gantz at a tie, but numbers favor right-wing coalition | Live updates ■ If Netanyahu really lost, he will have no one to blame but himself | Analysis ■ 12 takeaways from Israel's looniest election that Netanyahu just won. Or is it Gantz? | Chemi Shalev 

Even if it turns out that the right-wing bloc is leading and Netanyahu gets the nod from the president to establish a coalition, we must not forget the heavy price tag that would be attached. Frightening testimony to this was given by Union of Right-Wing PartiesMK Bezalel Smotrich, who rushed to announce that “the key” to establishing a right-wing government that would rule for four years is to bring back the law that would give the prime minister immunity from indictment in the three cases pending hearings.

Netanyahu dismantled the government and called for early elections with the goal of hastening the attorney general’s decision on the indictments, and failed. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has decided on indictments, pending hearings, for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Now it seems that Netanyahu intends to use coalition negotiations to pressure his partners into re-legislating the immunity law. A prime minister in Israel is asking to bend the law and certainly public ethics, just so he can stay in power.

It is to be hoped that among Netanyahu’s natural partners – especially MK Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu – are fair parties that will refuse to prostitute the Israeli legislature and will not lend a hand to turning the Knesset into a refuge for a scofflaw prime minister.

The election that ended Tuesday was one of the ugliest in Israel’s history. But it is still unclear if the worst is now behind us.

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