Israel’s second round of elections have been a complex but ultimately straightforward math problem: the ruling Likud party plus their allies equals less than a majority. The opposition Blue and White party plus their allies equals less than a majority. Neither side is willing to make the compromises needed to join together and the swing vote secular Yisrael Beiteinu party is so far non-committal, wanting instead to join the two major parties in a unity government. Altogether that equals deadlock and a third round of elections.
But what if math wasn’t such a problem? Could Blue and White leader Benny Gantz cobble together enough numbers to be Israel’s next prime minister without a governing majority? It’s possible, and here’s why.
The Swing Votes
Blue and White has 33 seats in the 120 Knesset, making it the largest party ahead of 32-seat Likud, led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The remaining left-leaning parties that would likely align with Blue and White number a total of 11 seats, making the center-left bloc just 44 seats, well shy of the 61 seats needed for a majority government. However, there are more than enough seats from some non-committed sources.
First, and obviously, is the Yisrael Beiteinu party. While center-right in politics, it is secular and therefore more aligned with the Blue and White party than Likud’s religious allies. While the party led by Avigdor Lieberman did not recommend a prime minister from either major party in the last round of endorsements, it’s not unreasonable to think they may shift course and join Blue and White now that the countdown to another round of elections is ticking away.
However, Yisrael Beiteinu only gives the Blue and White bloc 52 seats. Where will the others come from? This is where things get interesting.
The Joint List of Arab parties, which hadn’t even endorsed a prime minister candidate since 1992 according to The Times of Israel, would likely not sit in a government. In fact, that same Times article reported they said as much last month. However, with 13 seats in the Knesset, the Arab parties have more than enough votes to keep a minority government afloat. In effect, the Arab parties could refuse to dissolve the government, meaning that the opposition would not have a majority of votes to force new elections—even though the “ruling” coalition is less than a majority themselves. Presuming the other Blue and White allies stayed true as well, they would effectively be able to set up a “ruling” government with just 52 seats.
Why It Could Happen
That same Times of Israel article said the Arab parties had wanted to serve in the powerful opposition leader role, but with the mega-party Likud disinterested in serving in a Benny Gantz government, the opposition leader role would likely fall to Netanyahu’s faction.
Instead, the Arab parties would hold major power another way. If they served as a safety net for a minority Gantz government, they could effectively wield a veto. If Gantz’s parties wanted to pass legislation that the Arabs didn’t like, they could threaten to topple the government. In return, Gantz and his partners could compromise or even drop legislation disliked by the Arab parties.
As for Yisrael Beiteinu, they could get a secular government as a second-best choice to their dreams of a powerful unity government—not to mention their own veto power as a key part of the narrow 65-seat bloc.
Why It Probably Won’t Happen
While it is possible that such a small minority government would get some legislation passed if the Arabs or members of Likud’s alliance support a bill here or a bill there, the likelihood of that happening often is slim. In other words, a government consisting of just 52 seats would have great difficulty passing any laws.
Furthermore, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Lieberman, in a Facebook post on October 9, specifically said he wouldn’t sit in a small government with the Arab parties—whose general political viewpoint clashes strongly with Lieberman’s.
The press release announcing that Netanyahu had returned the prime minister mandate to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin—setting the stage for it to pass to Gantz—noted in simple language that Netanyahu had been “unable” to form a government. It may not be that simple—as we’ve shown here, there is a chance Gantz can do better. But sometimes, it’s just simple math. We’ll find out which in the next four weeks.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, October 22, 2019)