Israeli President Urges Top Political Factions to Form Unity Government

If unity fails, could Gantz still succeed? President Rivlin (center) with Netanyahu and Gantz. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Haim Zach, Israeli GPO.

With just days remaining for Israel’s Blue and White political party to form a government and a third consecutive round of elections looming on the horizon, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin pleaded for both Blue and White and Likud to form a majority unity government. Rivlin, in comments on Sunday published in an Israeli press release, asked Israel’s mayors to contact their political leaders and tell them, “’Enough! We do not need another round of elections. Do the right thing and come back [to negotiations].’”

Rivlin, whose role appoints a lawmaker to attempt to form a government, went on to say that “I call on both Likud and [Blue and White] to… understand that the people do not want more elections. They have had enough of elections.”

In Israel’s parliamentary system, if no party secures a majority of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), a coalition of parties must join together to form a government. In the latest round of elections, the second of 2019, not only did Likud and Blue and White fail to form a majority government, their allies also failed to win enough seats for the leading parties to form a natural coalition—leaving the government in limbo.

Likud leader and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already tried and failed to form a government, with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz getting his turn on October 23. Under Israeli law—and as highlighted by The Brookings Institution—Gantz has four weeks to develop a coalition, leaving him until Tuesday to do so. If Gantz fails, one more person can get 21 days to try and succeed—with new elections pending if that attempt falls short.

The answer to this government riddle is actually surprisingly simple: Likud and Blue and White won enough seats combined to form a unity government—if the rivals can agree to the terms. There are multiple challenges, not the least of which is that Netanyahu faces a possible legal indictment that could end his political career. The two parties would also need to agree to a power-sharing rotation of the prime minister position, with the sticking point of which leader would be premier first. And while it’s possible that the two parties can effectively agree on enough to rule together, the reality is that their political allies in other parties largely oppose one another, raising questions about how much compromise either party would be willing to make.

Rivlin believes they can. “The gaps are more personal than they are ideological, conceptual, political or to do with the needs of the state,” said Rivlin. “Israel’s leaders must understand that the people of Israel come first… We need a government that can function and decide on issues where the two main parties can agree on an outline of policies, and then resolve the sensitive issues facing this leader or another regarding his future.”

While Rivlin believes a deal between the two largest parties can be reached, the parties’ rhetoric against each other continued as of Sunday. The Facebook page for Yesh Atid—a key political faction that helps make up the Blue and White party—blamed the recent rocket attack from Hamas in Gaza on the approach of the current government—led by Netanyahu and Likud.

“Last night Hamas breached the ceasefire and fired rockets at Israel. Why? Because it can. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are terrorist organizations which dictate the lives of the residents of the south and the State of Israel,” said the Yesh Atid Facebook post. “No, there aren’t any easy solutions but we’re paying for the lack of clear policy over the past five years. And there are things that can be done.”

The statement concluded with a call to change the Israeli national leadership: “It was another sleepless night in the south, we’ll start the change from Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, lobbed national security warnings of his own against Blue and White. One hypothetical scenario for Blue and White to form a government is to get the endorsement of the Israeli Arab political factions. The Arab lawmakers would be unlikely to join a coalition with Blue and White—which talks tough against Palestinian terror—but they could enable a minority government to survive by not voting them out.

However, that would make passing a budget and other major government policies with a majority vote extremely difficult and leave Blue and White at least somewhat beholden to the Arab parties—with all the worries that could bring.

Netanyahu, according to a translation to English of a post on his Facebook page, called a minority government that “depends” on the Arab political faction “an existential danger to security Israel.”

Rivlin didn’t comment on the involvement of the Arabs in an Israeli government, but nonetheless sees the clear advantage of a majority government versus one that holds less than half the Knesset seats.

“We need a government that is able to face the challenges that require unity by forming a solid parliamentary majority that can pass a budget, including the security and social services budget,” said Rivlin. “…These are things that a united government can find solutions for. These are the things that require compromise on one hand, and support and solidarity on the other.”

In the end, Rivlin sees the Israeli people as prepared to support a unity government between Likud and Blue and White.

“We must break out of the restraints of personality and understand that we were elected as leaders to deal with the people’s future,” said Rivlin. “The people knows which way it is going and supports the leadership whenever it knows what the goal is.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, November 17, 2019)

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