BY DOV LIPMAN
(October 11, 2019 / JNS) As the situation stands right now, Israel seems to be headed toward a third election in the early months of 2020.
The Likud Central Committee met on Thursday night and voted that their party’s only candidate for prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu. The central committee also determined that the Likud will only join a government during the 22nd Knesset if Benjamin Netanyahu serves as its prime minister — either alone or as part of a rotation.
While only 300 out of the party’s 3,700 central committee members showed up to vote, the move makes it impossible for another Likud Knesset member to try to represent the party as candidate for prime minister.
“There are people who want to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in middle of this term,” said Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev of Likud, explaining why this vote was necessary.
Netanyahu is in his second week of a 28-day period during which he has been tasked to form a government. If he fails, the president will give Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz the chance to form a government. If he fails — and there seems to be no way for him to get to the 61 seats he needs for a government — then any Knesset member can try to bring 60 other Knesset members to support them for prime minister.
There have been rumblings about prominent Likud Knesset members trying to take control of the party during those 21 days and form a unity government with Blue and White. Thursday night’s vote closed the door on that. It also closes the door on Likud MKs trying to push Netanyahu out because of his legal woes at any time during this Knesset term.
David Amsalem, Likud’s communications minister, told the voters in the audience that “the left as usual are not being democratic. For two months, they are telling us that the prime minister is not legitimate. But we went to elections. And more than 1,100,000 people voted for him. And together with the rest of the national camp, more than 2 million people voted that they want Netanyahu to be prime minister. But they just cannot accept it.”
Likud Knesset member Keti Sheetrit told JNS that people need to understand that “the DNA of the Likud is to protect its leaders regardless of what may be going on.” In fact, the party has only had four leaders in its 45-year history (compared to 10 different leaders in the Labor Party during this time).
Blue and White has made it clear that it won’t join a government with Netanyahu as prime minister given the indictment that he faces on corruption charges. And Likud reinforced that it won’t replace Netanyahu. Blue and White also says it wants to negotiate with Likud alone for a national unity government. Likud insists that it is coming to the negotiations with three other parties representing their 55-mandate right-wing/religious bloc.
There was some hope that Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the eight-seat Yisrael Beiteinu Party, would present an idea that could somehow break the current stalemate and prevent heading to a third election. But the plan he presented two days ago did not accomplish that. He suggested a three-headed government made up of Likud, Blue and White, and his own party, which would be a 71-seat government. He also proposed that these three parties establish the guiding principles of their government and pass a state budget. Then, any other parties that accept these principles and values are welcome to join their government.
Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member Oded Forer told JNS that “the plan Lieberman announced is the only plan that can prevent a third election. Each side will have to compromise. Netanyahu will have to compromise on his 55-seat bloc and join a government without them. Gantz will have to compromise on being first in the prime minister rotation and allow Netanyahu to go first.”
Forer then emphasized, “If both sides do so, we can establish a liberal, national unity government in a matter of days.”
But while he calls for a national unity government that includes Likud, Lieberman has simultaneously attacked Likud in recent days, labeling one prominent Likud minister “a liar” and calling another “an animal.” He has also attacked Netanyahu, saying “the problem with Bibi is that the moment you have a different approach or opinion than his which goes against his interests, you immediately become his enemy.”
That reality, along with the fact that neither Likud nor Blue and White has shown any willingness to move towards Lieberman’s proposed compromises, yields little hope for a breakthrough to prevent a third election.