Daily Briefing: Israel’s Elusive Government (October 7,2019)

: First meeting of the new 3rd cabinet.
Left-Right MESSRS. Burg, Pinkas, Levin, Shapira, Eshkol, Sherf?, Ben-Gurion, Naphtali, Kaplan, Yosef, Dinur, Golda Meir & Shitreet. (Source: Wikipedia)
Table OF Contents: 
Is This Netanyahu’s Last Chance at Political Redemption?:  Matthew Petti, The National Interest, Sept. 29, 2019
Isi Leibler: The Netanyahu Era Must Come to an End:  Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 26, 2019
Netanyahu Is In No Rush:  Mati Tuchfeld, JNS, Oct. 6, 2019
Israel’s Fractured Democracy and its Repercussions Dr. Alon Ben Meir, Israel Hayom, Oct. 6, 2019
Is This Netanyahu’s Last Chance at Political Redemption?
Matthew Petti
The National Interest, Sept. 29, 2019Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is back from the dead. After his Likud Party suffered a devastating defeat in parliamentary elections earlier this month, it looked as if the prime minister was about to be shown the door. But his opponents haven’t been able to put together a coalition—opening up the chance for Netanyahu to seek redemption.The prime minister and cabinet are elected by the members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. On Wednesday, Israel’s ceremonial president, Reuben “Ruvi” Rivlin, handed Netanyahu the mandate to try to form a government. “They thought they could break up our partnership in the nationalist camp, but that is stronger than ever,” the prime minister told a crowd of supporters in Tel Aviv, who chanted “Bibi, King of Israel” in response.Neither Netanyahu nor any of his opponents have the sixty-one seats needed to win, but Netanyahu is the closest, with fifty-five members of Knesset endorsing him.This was a stunning reversal from last week, when retired Gen. Benjamin “Benny” Gantz thought he could count on fifty-seven votes from the Knesset. But his uneasy coalition between the Center and the Left broke down with a dramatic rupture in the Joint List, a conglomerate of Arab and far-left parties.There are nearly 1.9 million Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel, making up a fifth of the population. This number does not count the estimated 4.5 million Arab residents of the Palestinian territories, which Israel captured in a 1967 war. Netanyahu had used fear of an “Arab-leftist government” to mobilize his own base, but that strategy seems to have backfired, mobilizing enough Arab voters to anoint the Joint List the third-largest party in the Knesset. Three of the four parties in the Arab bloc wanted to endorse Gantz, giving him the Joint List’s thirteen votes. This would be the second time in Israeli history that the Arab parties voted for any Israeli prime minister.

Balad, the most uncompromising member of the alliance, bucked its partners and denounced the former chief of staff’s “right-wing positions that are not much different from the Likud and his bloody and aggressive military history.” Eventually, the parties agreed to subtract three votes from their endorsement, leaving Gantz with only fifty-four votes total.

That was enough to make Netanyahu the leading candidate in Rivlin’s eyes. “I think it was a pathetic decision, not reflecting the will of the Arab masses who voted for them,” said Mohammad Darawshe, director of the Center for Shared Society at the Givat Haviva Institute and former director of the United Arab List, one of the three Joint List factions that endorsed Gantz. “They are stuck in high ideological castles, without real connection to real politik in Israel,” he told the National Interest. “I think that their reading of Israeli political dynamics are not realistic, and this leads them to a non-pragmatic political behavior.”

However, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh claimed on Wednesday that Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party had actually asked the Arab parties to limit their support. If this is true, then the Blue and White is betting on Netanyahu’s inability to form a government. In the Israeli system, a party’s mandate to form a government lasts for twenty-eight days. If they fail to win a majority of votes by that time, then the president then hands the mandate to the next party. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Isi Leibler: The Netanyahu Era Must Come to an End
Isi Leibler
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 26, 2019

As we move into the New Year 5780, our dysfunctional political system seems to have sunk to an all-time low. There is now a complete deadlock that could have been avoided had there been a more intelligent electoral system.
But one thing seems clear: Benjamin Netanyahu will have at most a two-year term of office before he retires (and if he is indicted, it could be less). But that will require either Benny Gantz or Avigdor Liberman to be the first to blink. That Tzachi Hanegbi and other senior Likud leaders have already proclaimed they would never agree to another election is hardly an incentive for Liberman and the Center-Left to accept either a Netanyahu government or a unity government with Netanyahu taking the first turn in a rotating premiership.
The impasse could persist for months, during which time there will be no functioning government, and chaos will ensue as the attorney-general and the courts will be constantly called upon to reject legislation or acts that do not have the endorsement of an elected government or the majority of the Knesset.

This is a critical period as we enter the last year of US President Donald Trump’s current term with a peace plan possibly being launched and the prospects of armed conflict on the horizon. Israel also needs maximum coordination to ensure that it is not forsaken in the context of a possible US-Iran détente. There is also the issue of the Jordan Valley and settlement bloc annexation, which has the consensus of the nation but could be lost if we delay. For this and our tightrope relationship with the Russians, I am fearful that an alternative to Netanyahu lacks both experience and savvy to negotiate these delicate issues.

Netanyahu has served a record-breaking number of years as prime minister and he will be recorded as probably the most effective of all Israeli leaders. History will extol his handling of security, the economy, alerting the world to the Iranian nuclear threat and, above all, breaking down barriers and transforming Israel from a pariah status to a country enjoying unprecedented relations with the US, Russia, India, China, Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and now even moderate Sunni Arab states.

But all good things come to an end. For Netanyahu to try to carry on as head of a caretaker government at this juncture could also be disastrous. Unless he has a rabbit to pull out of his hat in a matter of days, he should bow out graciously and, in the national interest, offer his services to his successor.

The Likud and Blue and White representatives should agree on the major issues about which they share a consensus and invite those who agree to their terms to join and form as broad a government as possible. This would exclude the anti-Zionist Joint List. However, it should include the haredim, on condition that their representatives cannot veto legislation desired by the two leading parties, that military or national service is gradually introduced among their young men, and that secular studies are reintroduced into their schools. The latter in particular would encourage their youngsters to grow into self-sufficient adults rather than subsisting on welfare payments. The haredim must be willing to share a government with Liberman and Lapid and their parties; and should Lapid or Liberman refuse to share power with the haredim, they should be directed to the opposition. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Netanyahu Is In No Rush
Mati Tuchfeld
JNS, Oct. 6, 2019

Contrary to assessments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in no rush to return the mandate he has been given to form a new government. As long as there is no conflict between the legal and political timetables, he has no reason to hurry. The longer he holds on to the mandate, opting not to take advantage of the time he has been allotted to forge new alliances and shirk the old, the easier it will be for him to ensure both the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and the right-wing bloc stick by his side when Blue and White’s Benny Gantz is tasked with the job.

Of course, things could change another hundred times. But all signs point to the current faltering coalition negotiations dragging on until the very last minute, when President Reuven Rivlin will no longer able to task someone with forming a government. At that point, the mandate will go to the Knesset, where one lawmaker can be appointed prime minister should a minimum of 61 lawmakers throw their support behind him or her in the role.

This is a dangerous time for both Netanyahu and Gantz—one they have been preparing for weeks. Should they both fail to form a government in the 28 days allotted to them, other players in the Knesset will be given the opportunity to do so.

This brings us to the hottest name in the Likud Party outside of Netanyahu right now: Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar. To be sure, announcing your intention to run in democratic primaries you did not initiate is not the same thing as undermining a leader in office. But with the Likud and Netanyahu in such a precarious spot given the ongoing efforts to maintain the 55-member bloc under the prime minister, Sa’ar’s announcement has been seen as damaging and offensive.

But we may also see a surprising move from Blue and White. Seeing as his fellow party leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon continue to keep Gantz on a short leash in an effort to keep him from being tempted into leading a unity government that includes a rotation deal, the Blue and White chief may also fail to form a government. In that case, another candidate from within the party, Gabi Ashkenazi, for example, could show a little more assertive leadership than its current chairman and act to strike a deal with Netanyahu himself. Such a deal could lead to that party member finding his way to the Prime Minister’s Office in another two years, if not earlier in the case of an indictment.

Of course, one cannot completely rule out the possibility that in the end, when the threat of a third election becomes reality, redemption will come from, of all people, Avigdor Lieberman. The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, who appears to have already made the politically cynical move of the decade, might as a result be less enthusiastic about the prospect of another election. In this last election, the one he forced on the country, Lieberman’s party grew from five to eight Knesset seats. To the extent that he believes he has realized his party’s potential for growth, Lieberman may prefer to be seen as the responsible adult in the room that spares the country another election and enters a right-wing haredi government, the likes of which he has been party to so many times before.

Israel’s Fractured Democracy and its Repercussions
Dr. Alon Ben Meir
Israel Hayom, Oct. 6, 2019

Israel is a democracy and like most parliamentary democracies, the party that wins a plurality of the vote typically ends up forming the government, asking a few of the smaller parties to join a coalition government if they have not received an outright majority. Relative to most parliamentary (particularly Western European) democracies, Israel has a larger number of parties which has only grown over the years, each vying for the biggest representation in the Israeli parliament.

There are two major reasons for the vast number of political parties. The Jews who immigrated to Israel from nearly 120 different countries came with different cultural, political, and ideological backgrounds – there were liberals, conservatives, socialists, and even communists. Although they were all committed to the security and wellbeing of the state, they held onto their sets of political and ideological beliefs, which led to the creation of a plethora of parties.

The second reason is that, until 1988, the electoral threshold for a party to be allocated a Knesset seat was only 1%. It has been increased in minute percentage points since then, until March 2014, when the Knesset approved a new law to raise the threshold to 3.25%, with the objective of consolidating and reducing the number of parties.

Given the low threshold, even at 3.25%, it has encouraged different ideological groupings to form parties of their own so as to accomplish four objectives: satisfy the personal ambition of the party’s leaders, promote the party’s own policies, maintain the support of its loyal adherents, and strengthen their bargaining positions at the negotiating table should they be invited to join a coalition government.

Another interesting phenomenon of the Israeli electoral system is the party shakeups prior to any election – several new parties are formed, some existing parties unite to establish a stronger bloc, and other existing parties dissolve altogether.

The chief shortcoming of the existence of many parties is that it is impossible for a single party to garner more than 50% of the parliamentary seats (61 out of 120). As a result, all Israeli governments since inception have been coalition governments consisting of several parties.

Every time, efforts to establish coalition governments become saddled by the would-be coalition partners, who continue to hold fast onto their different ideologies and priorities, and the personal ambitions of the party leadership, which are often placed above the party or even national interests.

Given the desire to be a part of the government, the coalition partners agree to make some concessions, often temporary or conditional. The net result is that the various parties end up settling for the lowest common denominator, both in domestic and foreign affairs policy, which inadvertently weakens the government’s hand in taking major initiatives unless there is full support by all members of the coalition. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Netanyahu’s Legal Woes: How Much Trouble Is He In?:  Israel Hayom, Oct.2, 2019 — Two weeks after fighting and failing to win an election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced trouble on a second front on Wednesday at legal hearings to decide whether he must face trial for corruption.
Poll: Gideon Sa’ar Top Contender to Replace Netanyahu:  Arutz Sheva, Oct. 6, 2019 — About half of the Israeli public opposes the establishment of a unity government led by Binyamin Netanyahu – and only 42% support it – according to a Walla! poll and a representative national sample was taken for the first time since the elections.
Shaked Refusing to Sign Commitment to Back Netanyahu in Knesset PM Pick, Haredim Agree:  Jewish Press, David Israel, Oct. 4, 2019 — The Yamina party is refusing to sign a commitment not to support any MK other than PM Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next coalition government once the Knesset signature collection phase kicks in, after both Netanyahu and Blue&White chairman Benny Gantz have failed and returned their mandate to the president.
‘Israel Will Miss Opportunities If No Government Formed’:  Arutz Sheva, Oct. 6, 2019 — US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned that Israel would miss diplomatic opportunities if the political parties fail to form a government following last month’s elections.