The news out of Israel is that the President Reuven Rivlin has turned from Benjamin Netanyahu to Benny Gantz to form the next government, and in doing so said sharply that he wants Israeli politicians to cease “boycotts” of one another, as Ellie Hochenberg translated the word on i24 News yesterday. The Jerusalem Post said Rivlin came out against “disqualifications” of possible partners.
Israeli reports said that Rivlin’s comment was aimed at the bars that Israeli centrists announced during the campaign– against serving with Netanyahu’s group, because he faces indictment, or serving with rightwing religious parties, because they are secularists. “These are fateful days,” Rivlin said. Time to put politics aside.
Gantz has already reached out to the far-right apartheid-supporter Bezalel Smotrich. And to Netanyahu too. Gantz said he will also meet with the Arab parties. But no one expects him to suspend the promises he made not to make a government with the Palestinian parties.
In fact, if there is any horsetrading with the Palestinian politicians, it will be to use them as a threat so as to make rightwing politicians abandon Netanyahu.
Gantz’s most likely path to becoming prime minister– says the Israel Policy Forum’s podcast– is to threaten to form a minority center-left Jewish government dependent on Palestinian votes, so that he crushes Netanyahu’s defense line and ends up with a majority right government.
How does that work? Gantz assembles a government of the 44 seats represented by his own party, Blue and White (33), along with the Democratic Union and Labor/Gesher parties (11) further to the left, and he gets the nod to become prime minister with the outside voting support of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu (8) and the Joint Arab List (13). That’s enough seats, 65, to block a no-confidence vote from Netanyahu’s bloc of 55 rightwing seats; and Gantz would be able to form a temporary new government that has the approval of a majority, if not the participation of Lieberman or the Joint List in the actual government.
The leader of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, says he would be “honored” to be part of Gantz’s blocking vote, in order to get rid of Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu has been hammering this home… that Gantz is looking to form a government with the Arab parties, something that Gantz definitely isn’t looking for, but in terms of forming a government, if this could work, if Lieberman would be open to it, I think it is one of [Gantz’s] only options,” Eli Kowaz of Israel Policy Forum says. “If it was difficult and impossible for Netanyahu, it’s not going to be much easier for Gantz.”
Evan Gottesman of the IPF podcast says this threat might be enough to crumble the pact Netanyahu made of 55 rightwing legislators, to stick by him.
“It would seem that in doing something like that Gantz and his partners would be putting a lot of pressure on Likud,” he says. “Gantz isn’t looking for a coalition with the Arab parties. He’s not necessarily against a coaliton with Labor and the Democratic Union, but he sees his natural partners as being Likud, without Netanyahu… And for Likud, they don’t want to see a government with these leftwing parties. And that would probably put a lot of pressure within Likud to get Netanyahu out, if he’s the only thing that’s preventing them from having a center-right or rightwing government.”
So when the rightwing sees that a kindred spirit — Benny Gantz — is in danger of forming a center-left government with the passive support of the Arabs (!), finally Netanyahu’s loyalty oath crumbles. And then members of Likud and the orthodox finally break their pact with Netanyahu to keep him as prime minister– and some rush into a Gantz governing coalition.
So Gantz ends up with a majority rightwing government with the support of Likud members. Which is what he wanted all along, Blue/White + Likud – Netanyahu.
“Just imagine… how lawmakers in Likud would react to such a reality,” Kowaz says of the Joint List participating in such a blocking position. “It wouldn’t look good for Netanyahu to say the least.”
There’s one impediment to this scenario: Lieberman would have to agree to be in an outside voting bloc with Palestinians, whom he has repeatedly smeared and threatened in his political life, and vowed that he won’t work with. But Lieberman would only have to make that pledge provisionally/tactically, as a threat to work with the Palestinians, and then Likud would crumble.
You will notice in this scenario, the Arabs are pawns. No one wants them. Everyone has vowed not to make a government with them. They are boycotted by any Jewish ruling coalition. That’s how the Jewish state works. Even when you need their political seats– because Palestinians in Israel can vote– they’re not allowed anywhere near power.
And yes, I will eat my hat if Gantz surprises me and truly reaches out to the Palestinians.
Notice when the New York Times covered this possible outcome, it did so with only glancing reference to Palestinian parties, no sense of how anathema Palestinian power is inside the Israeli system. The political paralysis in Israel is cited by analysts the Times quotes as a mere tic in democracy. “Some likened it to a muscle cramp that will eventually subside. Others to a computer virus, but not a fatal one.” (“Just a normal democracy,” as Donald Johnson says. “If Israel were an official enemy–Chomsky’s phrase– like Iran or Venezuela there’d be all sorts of references to their human rights violations, real or alleged.”)