What It Will Take for Israel to Avoid an Unprecedented 3rd Vote

(Bloomberg) -- After former Israeli military chief Benny Gantz is assigned Wendesday night to put together the next government, he’ll have four weeks to try to complete that task and unseat longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pressure is mounting to resolve the political impasse that has essentially paralyzed Israel politically since December despite two national elections.

Netanyahu failed twice in the past five months to build a governing coalition, and Gantz is also likely to struggle to corral a majority of parliament’s 120 lawmakers. If he, too, comes up short, that would probably send the country to yet another vote, a deeply unpopular prospect with no guarantee of breaking the current stalemate.

What It Will Take for Israel to Avoid an Unprecedented 3rd Vote

Here are the most likely scenarios Israel could see in the next month.

Ditch Netanyahu, Unite the Country

Gantz has said he wants to head a government of secular Zionist parties that would command a comfortable majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The simplest solution would be to team up with Netanyahu’s Likud, but Gantz has refused to agree to a power-sharing agreement with Likud as long as it is led by the prime minister, who faces possible indictment on corruption charges.

That means Gantz and his Blue and White bloc may start pressuring Likud members to depose their leader to spare the country another election. He may also encourage some of them to defect so he could cobble together a majority with other, smaller factions.

The Silent Majority

Gantz could also seek to preside over a minority government. That would require a commitment by parties outside the coalition to support him in parliamentary votes. Top candidates would be the Joint List, which represents Israel’s Arab community, and the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu headed by Avigdor Liberman, whose surprise refusal to join Netanyahu’s government after the first election in April touched off the political deadlock.

It’s an unpalatable and unlikely option because it would leave Gantz at the mercy of parties who have fundamentally different views on Israeli politics. The arrangement could easily fall apart over issues like national security and relations with the Palestinians.

Candidate, Unknown

If Gantz comes up empty, a majority of lawmakers could choose a third candidate they deem suited to end the gridlock. That’s never happened before.

A Third Vote

The last recourse would be another election in early 2020, further postponing the tackling of pressing issues like curbing the budget deficit, investing in infrastructure and rolling out the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan.

While the electoral fault lines might not shift dramatically, a new element would likely enter the calculus. Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is expected to decide by the end of the year whether to charge Netanyahu with bribery and fraud, as he’s signaled he plans to do. Netanyahu had a hearing last month to try to change Mandelblit’s mind. If the attorney general drops the three cases against him, that would deprive Gantz of his main appeal as a clean-hands alternative. But if Mandelblit takes Netanyahu to court, the prime minister would likely enter the race even more badly hobbled.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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