(Jerusalem, Israel) — Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. And we love elections so much we’ve had two in the last six months.
But Tuesday’s vote didn’t go well for Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, currently the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history. After pulling out all the stops to secure 61 or more seats to build a right-wing coalition government, Bibi fell well short.
In fact, his main rival, Benny Gantz, founder of the Blue & White party, won more seats (33) than Bibi’s Likud party (31). Gantz previously served as a highly-decorated chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Israeli politics are cutthroat and labyrinthian, so there’s no point in going through all the possible permutations of what happens from here.
Short version: the most likely outcome is now a “national unity government” in which either Gantz serves as Prime Minister for the first two years and Netanyahu for the second two years, or vice versa.
That said, here’s what you need to know:
- Netanyahu faces an all-important court hearing on October 2, and it is very possible that he will be formally indicted in three separate corruption cases. Though Bibi deserves the presumption of innocence, many Israelis believe government officials should not forge a deal with Bibi because he will need to spend so much of his time on his own legal defense in the years ahead.
- Gantz and his Blue & White co-leaders say they want to a form a “broad… national unity goverment.” They’re happy to form one with Likud, they say, but only if someone else leads Likud. They don’t want to make a deal with Bibi because he’s facing indictments.
- Avigdor Liberman — the former Defense Minister, head of his own political party, and former chief of staff for Netanyahu who is a now a fierce rival of Netanyahu — won 9 seats. This is nearly double from his previous 5 seats, and Liberman is widely regarded as the “kingmaker” whose support is crucial to anyone trying to create a majority coalition. Liberman today indicated that he will recommend Gantz, not Netanyahu — to be next Prime Minister, though he, too, supports a national unity government.
- If all this weren’t complicated enough, neither Blue & White nor Liberman’s party are keen on having ultra-Orthodox religious parties in the coalition, believing those parties already exert too much control over Israeli social policy and the budget. Will Likud be willing to join a national unity government only with Blue & White and Liberman, jettisoning their long-time alliance with the religious parties? That remains to be seen, and is likely going to be a major point of contention in the negotiations.
I’ll post more analysis in the days ahead, but for breaking news please follow me on Twitter @JoelCRosenberg.
(Photo: PM Netanyahu on the left, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the center, and Benny Gantz on the right, shaking hands at an event today remembering the late-President of Israel Shimon Peres.)
NOTE: These are my own personal views. I’m not writing in my capacity as Founder and Chairman of The Joshua Fund, as that organization is non-political and non-partisan.
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