21 November 2019

The establishment of a new Israeli executive gets postponed. For the second time

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Israel, a strong democracy, maybe the only one in the Middle East, is going through tough times in term of politics, experiencing an unwanted, yet unpredictable, electoral roller coaster, due to the last developments of the Israeli society. As usually happens to leaders running the destinies of their fellow citizens, their legitimacy creates a power vacuum, whether it is induced or genuine, therefore it requires time to allow another leader to become responsible with country’s leadership. This is why overcoming this period, which can be defined as “trying to let Netanyahu go”, is so hard and no one knows for sure if that moment is really here.

Image source: Mediafax

The Netanyahu “element”

After more than 15 years as head of the Israeli executive- the last 10 uninterrupted-, in fact, as leader of the country, considering his enlarged responsibilities as prime-minister, Benjamin Netanyahu can hardly be convinced that another person will take his responsibilities, as long as he is strong enough to do it. Later, maybe, but not now. Nor the electorate can believe it. This is why, although the electoral balance is slowly trying to make a change, elections’ results are still allowing the effective prime-minister to hope to get a new mandate.

His abilities to mobilize his own electorate, along with anathematizing any of his rival attempt to establish even a minority, have blocked the current Israeli political scene, thinking of a national cohesion and the organization of new elections, for the third time, in less than a year.

This week, the ulterior developments will hopefully be clearer thanks to the fact that Benny Gantz’s term to announce whether he is able to create a majority for a new government, he decides to propose a minority government, or if he will table his mandate, has ended.

In fact, the referee of this dramatic situation is not Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, the one to provoke the current crisis and who insists on solving it following his directions. The true referee is the general attorney Avichai Mandelblit, who will have to decide on accusing the prime-minister, or not, in December, even though he could do it earlier too, and media sources are claiming that it could even happen this week or the coming one. Bringing forward this decision is related to the retirement of the state attorney Shai Nitzan, the one who was involved in the investigated corruption cases. Therefore, solving this political blockage may depend on this announcement and, indeed, its content.

Benjamin Netanyahu pressured those involved in these cases a lot, even asking for a public debate about how independent can justice be if the justice minister himself, Aminr Ohana, sends messages undermining this independency. These three cases may seem a lot and decisive, but for each of it the backhander and the corruption are indirect, therefore the decision is on general attorney’s hands. Israel is on a thin ice right now and until the attorney general Avichai Mandelblit does not make a decision, the Israeli justice is on curfew.

And this is not the only thing prime-minister Netanyahu did, directly or through third parties, to make sure Benny Gantz will not manage to get the votes for a governing coalition. We will give you just two examples.

The first is the assassination operation of one of Islamic Jihad’s leaders, Baha Abu al-Ata, on November 12th. In an article published by the Defence and Security Monitor, we have presented the context, reasons, methods of action and the possible consequences of it. The arguments for this decision are strong and one can hardly find any political connections for it, besides, maybe, the moment this execution took place. Proving to be a genuine politician, Netanyahu has even informed his enemy on this operation, and Gantz could not but just agree with it. However, the political consequences of this operation are higher than the military ones. A possible minority government, supported by the Israeli Arabs, is, suddenly, out of discussion. Even country’s president felt the need to warn Gantz to stay out of it.

The second was the “promotion” as minister of defence, a position occupied by the executive chief himself, of one of the main enemies on the right camp of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is the leader of the New Right, Naftali Bennett, the one to be considered the post-Netanyahu representative voice of the Israeli right wing. In order to break any chances for the Israeli New Right to join Gantz’s coalition, Netanyahu chose to keep his enemy inside, offering him one of the most important positions in the executive.

And there are many other examples, including the economic and financial price of these decisions, because repeated elections are expensive, because interrupting the public institutions and schools’ functioning as consequence of the Islamic Jihad fightback also costs, and promoting the extremist group inside the Gaza Strip, through Israel’s attention, can also have unexpected electoral effects (Hamas was just a bystander of the recent developments).

One of the conclusions of these negotiations and post-electoral developments is that for Benjamin Netanyahu the work options are the following:

1. Establishing a coalition government led by Gantz, or by anyone else, the worst scenario for the effective prime-minister. In order to fight this idea, he used every political asset he had, all the leverages allowed or at the edge of the democratic game;

2. Continuing to lead the Israeli executive, whether through failed negotiations- which means that the effective prime-minister will keep his position until the following elections, even an unspecified time after that-, or by

3. Establishing a bigger coalition- with a rotating executive leadership for the two, maybe three, political groups, however, one to start with renewing Netanyahu’s prime-minister mandate. This is a trump Gantz avoided because keeping this enemy as prime-minister, even for a pre-established period, may get permanent.

But what if Benny Gantz does not manage to establish a governing coalition?

Theoretically, the organization of a third round of parliamentary elections will not come immediately. Between November 20th and December 11th there is still a chance, a small one, to get out of this repetitive and expensive cycle, literally and metaphorically.

During these three weeks, any member of Knesset can try to establish a coalition and ask for the president mandate to materialize it in the parliament. Considering the discipline parties’ members and the opposed political groups had, we can hardly believe that one of the deputies will make it happen. Only if both leaders, Netanyahu and Gantz, decide to make a step back to overcome this moment. This will, however, hardly happen because of their pride. There is also the possibility for both leaders to continue their efforts to create a majority. In that case, they will work without a negotiation presidential mandate, able to ask Kensset for it only if they get the 61 votes. If this miracle happens and there will be a vote by which one prime-minister candidate, them or another one, will be voted by the simple majority, he will have another two weeks available to establish the government, which should pass parliament’s vote again, on December 25th.

But if nor on December 11th  no result will come out, then they will organize elections in March.

If the general attorney decides not to hurry announcing if Netanyahu will be charged or not, the procedural moment may take place in the midst of December.

This way, the time left until the end of the year becomes critical for the establishment of the new Israeli executive.

The die was cast. But the game will, most likely, take place in March

The already predictable, happened: Benny Gantz has tabled his mandate and a big coalition government is not unlikely to be created. The efforts the Israeli president made, Reuven Rivlin, to convince the three politicians that could have solved this crisis to leave their disputes outside the table proved to be small comparing to their interests.

For Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman it was obvious, from the very beginning, that Netanyahu will try to get a third elections tour. Postponing the establishment of new executive gives him another four-five months as chief of government, however with smaller responsibilities, but still in a position that can protect him from judicial procedures.

Including the judges elected to judge these three cases will be from Jerusalem, where the executive headquarter is, normally, more permissive than those from Tel Aviv, specialized in “white collars” criminalistics these cases should be included in.

The idea of organizing elections in March 2020, on a Tuesday, 90 days after these next 21 days when we can still witness miracles, is convenient for all main political actors of the Israeli scene.

For Netanyahu, we have already presented the reasons.

For Gantz, they are avoiding a half-surrender in front of the effective prime-minister, in case he will accept a national union government with Netanyahu leading it, they are avoiding the destruction of their own coalition, Kahol Lavan/Blue and White, which would have taken place, most likely, if he would have accepted the second position, they are continuing an ascendant direction of this group in the Israeli electorate. At the previous elections, he won a mandate, for the following ones, he could get one or two more. This will make the difference.

For Lieberman, his secular and rightist position, even Likud rightist, continued even by risking repeated early elections, can help him in March, when he can get a part of the area the secular Israeli right wing is now.

Gantz did not risk a minority government, supported by the Israeli Arabs, which was possible, yet suicidal.

Lieberman did not risk a coalition with Likud, which would have included the religious parties as well, a gesture that would have ended his assumed secularism.

And Netanyahu risked everything. From a controversial military operation, to giving up a key position in the executive to a rival in his own camp, in order to avoid risking to have a defence plea without the prime-minister immunity.

Rien ne va plus/ The scales have been tipped!

And March is not that far!

Translated by Andreea Soare