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Now what? Netanyahu indicted. Gantz fails to form government. Iran threat rising. Where does Israel go from here?

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — This has been a crazy week in Israel, and people are asking me what’s coming next. Here’s a rudimentary road map. Just keep in mind there are likely to be lots of roadblocks and detours ahead.

  1. On Wednesday night, Benny Gantz — head of the Blue & White centrist party — informed Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin that he was not able to form a government. This follows Netanyahu failing to form a government a month earlier.
  2. On Thursday morning, Rivlin informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that a 21-day period now begins in which any Member of the Parliament can try to gather 61 signatures from fellow MKs to form a government and become Prime Minister.
  3. In theory, this meant both Netanyahu and Gantz could keep looking for ways to become PM — including forming a unity government in which the two would rotate the premiership.
  4. Then came the bombshell — on Thursday night, Attorney General Mandelblit (pictured) announced that after more than a year of deliberations he had decided to formally indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in three separate criminal cases.
  5. There is a strong likelihood that no one will be able to form a government in this 21 day period — if not, Israel will go to a stunning third round of elections. If this happens, the election would likely be held in March 2020.
  6. Recent polls are clear: most Israelis do not want a third election and plan to punish any candidate or party they perceive as having pushed the country down that road.
  7. This could cut hard against Bibi. The latest poll finds that 49% of Israelis blame Netanyahu for failing to agree to a unity government. Only 25% blame Gantz. Even 36% of right-wing voters blame Netanyahu.
  8. Actually, the situation is even more serious for Netanyahu. A new poll asks, “What should Netanyahu do after indictment?” 46% of Israelis say “Resign.” Only 30% say “Stay on until verdict.” Some 17% say, “Recuse himself.” Another 7% say they “Don’t know.” Remarkably, 30% of right-wing voters say “Resign.”
  9. Legally, Netanyahu should absolutely be considered innocent unless or until he is proven guilty in a court of law. Expect him to mount a vigorous defense in the media and the courtroom, even while employing many delaying tactics to slow down the legal process. He will also appeal to a Knesset Committee that has the power to issue him temporary immunity, so long as he serves as Prime Minister, further delaying the legal process.
  10. Politically, however, every supporter of Netanyahu is slowly — reluctantly — beginning to realize that he may be forced to step down, or even legally prevented from trying to form a new government.
  11. Without getting too technical here, let’s just note that Israel has never had a sitting Prime Minister be indicted. These are uncharted waters. And the big question is whether members of his own Likud Party will, at some point, make the following case: “Bibi, we’re sure that you’re innocent. But you cannot divide your days both defending yourself and the country. It’s too much for one man, and the public won’t stand for it. For the good of the country — and the good of the party —you need to step down, clear your name, and then come back into the political sphere.” 
  12. I can’t say how this will play out. No one knows. But our enemies — especially Iran, a grave and rising threat — are watching all this closely and could be tempted to take advantage of Israel’s political division and confusion. I ask you to be praying for Israel and for our leaders. And buckle up. The only thing that is clear is that the road ahead will be quite bumpy.

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