President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday, November 21, 2019, officially notified Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that the presidential mandate has been returned and the 21-day period during which any MK has the right to form a coalition begins. The current situation marks the first time in Israel’s history that no candidate was able to form a government.
In the first sign of rebellion with Israel’s ruling right-wing Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top party rival called for a leadership primary should the country go into an unprecedented third election in less than a year, as is expected.
But MK (Likud) Gideon Saar delivered a bombshell at the Jerusalem Post Conference, calling for primaries in the party after party leader, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, failed to establish a coalition government. The announcement comes a day after Netanyahu made the unilateral decision not to hold primaries, announcing his decision to the public, stating he will remain at the helm of the Likud.
Saar announced, “I can form a government and unite the nation and politics”. He added “We must set a date for primaries, as we are a democratic party and not Yesh Atid, which cancels internal elections. In Likud, there has not been primaries for a number of years.”
Saar added, “If we head to a third round of elections, it’s only logical that the prime minister will succeed this time.”
The statements made by Saar will undoubtedly serve to add to the tensions existing today between him and PM Netanyahu.
However, Minister Miri Regev announced earlier, ahead of Saar’s comments, that she sides with Netanyahu, stating primaries are unnecessary. She says that “achdus is necessary” as elections are upcoming and this is more important than primaries.
But MK Yoav Kisch of Likud was interviewed by Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) where he called for primaries in the party to elect the lineup for the upcoming election for Knesset, which is all but likely. He insists this is required of a “democratic party”, but when asked who he would back for the leadership of the party, he did not respond.
Saar, a former aide and senior Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, said he supported the establishment of a unity government to avert such an election, but said he would be a better fit to make that happen than Netanyahu, who faces an expected indictment on corruption charges in the coming days.
Netanyahu, Gantz or any other sitting lawmaker can hypothetically present the backing of a majority of the Knesset’s 120 members in the coming three weeks. But given the prolonged stalemate and unsuccessful mediation efforts it increasingly appears the country is headed toward yet another vote. Opinion polls are already predicting a very similar deadlock, signaling additional months of horse-trading and uncertainty.
The only plausible way out of a third election – and the prolonged political paralysis that has gripped Israel for the past year – would be a unity government between Netanyahu’s ruling Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.
Blue and White edged Likud by one seat in the previous election and together they could control a parliamentary majority. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have expressed an overall openness to the concept but during weeks of talks they could not agree on the terms of a power-sharing agreement, including who would serve first as prime minister.
Netanyahu has refused to drop his alliance with the right wing bloc which includes the Chareidi parties, which was a non-starter for kingmaker politician Avigdor Lieberman.
But the main sticking point has revolved around Netanyahu himself.
The long-time Israeli leader is desperate to remain in office as he prepares for the expected indictment. Gantz’s Blue and White refuses to sit under Netanyahu while he faces such serious legal problems but has said it has no problem with Likud if he is removed from the equation.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges in three separate cases. Though Netanyahu will not be compelled by law to step down immediately, it will certainly harden opposition to his continued rule.