Benjamin Netanyahu’s long reign as Israel’s prime minister will likely end after the September election, say two expert analysts. And Netanyahu’s best hope to stay as prime minister and avoid indictment will be if the Trump administration interferes, by releasing its peace plan, thereby putting pressure on Netanyahu’s rivals to make a government with him.
“It is probably unlikely for Benjamin Netanyahu at least for the forseeable future to be Israel’s prime minister,” Eli Kowaz of the liberal Zionist Israel Policy Forum, said on this podcast August 9.
“It feels so weird to be saying that,” Evan Gottesman said, echoing his colleague. “It feels weird to say that Netanyahu seems unlikely, and I don’t want to get too complacent in that possibility.”
The poll-watchers say that the most likely outcome of the election September 17 is that Israel’s two largest parties, Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue-White, each at about 30 seats in the polling, form a “unity government” along with kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman’s bloc– after some of Netanyahu’s own party members turn on him and support Gantz as prime minister.
Lieberman has said that he wants a unity government of the two largest parties, so as to marginalize ultra-orthodox rightwing parties. But Blue White has said it would only join a unity government if Netanyahu is removed, and Lieberman has said he’s open to that outcome.
Netanyahu is working hard against just this scenario so that he can stay in power and avoid indictment. His faithful speak of such an arrangement as a “coup” and are lining up pledges from Likud members to stand by Netanyahu no matter what.
Netanyahu’s hope is that his party and the several rightwing and religious parties win over 61 seats in the Israeli parliament, and Netanyahu can then form a government that will pass legislation to keep him from being indicted. But Kowaz and Gottesman say the polling shows the right falling short of that outcome. The right needs Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu party and Lieberman doesn’t want a coalition with ultra-orthodox parties. Netanyahu fell short just this way last April, and Lieberman stuck to his guns, refusing to join the right, leading to this next election.
By the way, the center-left has even less of a hope of making a government. Blue White and Labor and the new Democratic Union party are very unlikely to win enough seats altogether that they could make a governing coalition, and the left side of Israeli politics is fractured because Palestinian parties are ruled out of any governing coalition. Remember, Israel is a Jim Crow society.
That leaves the most likely outcome that Blue White and Likud — each of which won 35 seats in the April election — will have to form a unity government. Blue White is very unlikely to abandon its objection to Netanyahu as prime minister because that stance is the raison-d’etre of the party. Lieberman is very unlikely to go back on his word and cut a deal with Likud and the right wing parties.
“Lieberman would be fine in asking Likud to find a replacement to Netanyahu. Or he could recommend Gantz [as prime minister] right out of the gate,” Kowaz says.
So Kowaz and Gottesman believe we are seeing the end of the Netanyahu’s premiership, which all told has been 13 years, surpassing founder David Ben-Gurion last month.
Now let’s get to Netanyahu’s Hail Mary: The Trump peace plan could come out, presumably putting some limit on Israel’s endless expansionism in Palestine, and Blue White would agree to sit with a Netanyahu government so as to maintain a united front at a critical time for the Zionist project.
“There’s a possibility that if the Trump peace plan were released in such a way that puts Kahol Lavan in an awkward position, where they would have to sit under Netanyahu, that he [Netanyahu] could wrangle something,” Gottesman says.
Eli Kowaz said, “That would obviously be from external pressure from the United States, that I don’t regard as one of the most likely scenarios.”
Call it unlikely, but if this is Netanyahu’s only path to survival, and if Trump’s largest donor Sheldon Adelson is as committed to Netanyahu as he has been, why put it past Adelson to ask Trump for yet another deliverable (on top of moving the embassy, trashing the Iran deal, the Golan, UNRWA etc)? Why put it past Trump to deliver? Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt says the president will “decide soon” whether to release the plan before or after the election.
I ran these scenarios past Yossi Gurvitz. He wasn’t convinced. He wrote:
“As for Netanyahu’s downfall, as I’ve said before, trying to guess what Lieberman will do is a fool’s game. The guy has been in politics (as a candidate) for 20 years now, and *none* of his moves ever made sense. He quit governments when he had no discernible reason to and he joined governments when joining them made no sense (for instance, he joined Ehud Olmert’s government just as it was about to fall, extending its miserable existence for 18 months). He will do what he will do.
“Why would the peace plan force Kahol Lavan (Blue White) into a coalition? Any attempt to do so will split the party, with Bogie and the Bogiemen (Moshe “Bogie” Yalon of Blue White and his rightwing loyals Yoaz Handel and Zvi Hauser) reforming their party. The plan, if it exists, is a poison pill: the left won’t touch it because it leaves the Palestinians with nothing, and the right won’t touch it because it gives the Palestinians an inch more than they do right now.
“Trump’s peace plan is a no-go for Netanyahu. Assuming there is one, and I don’t think there is, if Netanyahu just as much as blinks at it, he loses his right wing – not just the basket of deplorables in whatever Ayelet Shaked calls her party nowadays (Yemina (Rightward)), but a significant block in Likud as well – possibly the majority. Doing so will make him a lame duck ready for the Lieberman-Gantz coup de grace. Unless Netanyahu loses his political sense and touch (and people say he’s losing it), he won’t touch the deal with a ten-foot electrified pole.
“My analysis remains: barring a major disaster, such as a war with Gaza (somewhat likely) which ended unusually badly (i.e., plenty of IDF dead and, horror of all horrors, MIAs), the right wing will get 63 to 67 seats. Lieberman will be kingmaker. He recently let it be known that he wants to be Prime Minister and *may* support Netanyahu if the latter promises him a rotation in the office. I believe the sea will catch fire (Boston Harbor is prohibited from participating in this quiz) before this happens.
“No way in hell is Netanyahu letting someone with 10-11 seats force a rotation on him. This would be total political humiliation. He’d cut a deal with Gantz before he does that. It’s going to be an interesting 42 days post election.”