The longest-serving tenure of a prime minister in Israel’s history looks likely to end, as a slim majority of Israeli lawmakers have nominated Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz to replace multi-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While Israeli President Reuben Rivlin has still called for an emergency unity government in the face of the coronavirus situation, Rivlin—who is authorized in his role to nominate the prime minister—announced he currently intends to task Gantz as Israel’s leader on Monday.
The decision could evolve if the two main parties, Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party, reach a unity government deal, but otherwise Gantz will get the first opportunity to form a government. With a unity government in mind, Netanyahu and Gantz met with Rivlin on Sunday according to an Israeli press release, and “the two sides agreed that the negotiating teams of the two parties will continue the discussions.”
However, the primership is Gantz’s to lose with Rivlin poised to appoint him. The announcement follows the recommendation of Gantz by 61 members of Israel’s 120-person Knesset (parliament). 58 members backed Netanyahu, while one Knesset Member abstained, according to an Israeli press release.
Those backing Gantz included the entire Joint List Arab faction, who the The Times of Israel expects would back a Gantz minority government from the outside – essentially acting as a veto to prevent the other parties from toppling the government with a no-confidence vote despite not officially joining the Gantz coalition. While some members of the Joint List backed Gantz in the last election in September, this is the first time he received the entire bloc’s support.
It turned out to be critical. With Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition falling just three seats short of a 61-seat majority, it looked like Gantz too might miss out on a majority as Knesset Member Orly Levy-Abekasis of the Labor-Meretz-Gesher faction decided to support no one for the head post.
That dropped Gantz to the bare minimum of a majority of 61 endorsements, requiring all of the Arab Joint List to back him in order to pass the leadership threshold—and unlike the last election, they did.
The last hope for Netanyahu for now, therefore, is that a unity government is reached in which he can share power with Gantz. On Twitter on Sunday, a Google translation of a post from Netanyahu laid out a proposal in which a short-term emergency government for six months would exist with Netanyahu as prime minister and the ministerial seats “distributed evenly” with Blue and White, with Netanyahu unable to fire any of the Blue and White party ministers during the timeframe.
Alternatively, Netanyahu offered a rotational unity government in which he would hold the prime minister’s office for two years with Gantz as the deputy, and then Gantz would take over for two years.
Rivlin, for his part, is pushing for the sides to reach a deal while recognizing the key part the government will generally play in the current situation. In a tweet, the Israeli President said, “Emergencies have never damaged Israeli democracy, but strengthened it and made the State of Israel more resilient. We are committed, more than ever with the urgent need for a government, to hold essential democratic processes even in a time of crisis.”
Of course, at this time, it is Gantz and his Blue and White party who hold the cards—he becomes prime minister if he can maintain his support whether he reaches a unity deal with Netanyahu or not. Yet Gantz was given an opportunity to form a government as prime minister following the last election as well, and failed. A government this time, even with the Joint List support from outside the coalition, would stay in power by the narrowest of margins and likely struggle to pass legislation with just 46 of the 120 Knesset members in the coalition itself.
All that to say, the final decision for Israel’s next leader could still go either way. But for the first time since 2009, the odds are against the next leader being Benjamin Netanyahu.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 15, 2020)