What is standing in the way of a Netanyahu and Gantz rotation agreement?
The Likud and Blue and White negotiating teams are set to meet on Tuesday, before their respective party leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz return to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday for another meeting, after the one on Monday night.
That meeting ended without white smoke out of Beit Hanassi’s chimney, so to speak, but it seems like the only way out of the current electoral mess is a unity government with a rotation for prime minister.
Both candidates have reasonable arguments as to why they should be prime minister. Gantz’s Blue and White received the most seats in the Knesset, with 33, but while Likud only has 31 seats, Netanyahu has more recommendations, with 55 to Gantz’s 54.
Notably, neither has a majority behind him, which means neither has a clear path to a coalition.
Hence, Rivlin has been pushing them towards a unity coalition, which would likely involve a rotation agreement for the premiership.
But there are many obstacles in the way and issues to work out before they reach Rivlin’s goal – if they manage to reach it at all.
No to Netanyahu
Blue and White’s biggest promise, its most consistent one throughout both election campaigns this year, was that it will not be in a government with Netanyahu as long as he is under an indictment or a recommended indictment.
Netanyahu’s hearing with Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit is next week, and just about every legal reporter in the country, including at The Jerusalem Post, says Mandelblit has a strong case and is likely to indict – which means that Blue and White doesn’t have an easy excuse for sitting with Netanyahu.
One Blue and White source told Ma’ariv that they will not give up on this: “If the Likud doesn’t send [Netanyahu] home, we will go to another election.”
Who’s on first?
Let’s say Blue and White breaks their promise to rule Netanyahu out, and goes for a rotation agreement. Now, the question is, who would be prime minister first?
It’s important to note that if Netanyahu is indicted, he can be prime minister, but he cannot hold a different ministerial portfolio. Meaning that, under indictment, Netanyahu would not be able to be in the cabinet while Gantz is prime minister.
One solution to this conundrum, proposed by Likud MK David Bitan, is that Netanyahu be premier for the government’s first year, then Gantz for two years, and then a year of whoever is Likud leader depending on Netanyahu’s legal status.
Immediately after Netanyahu’s meeting with Gantz and Rivlin, the prime minister called the leaders of Bayit Yehudi, New Right, Shas and UTJ, the members of his 55-seat negotiating bloc. The parties agreed last week that they would negotiate together, and Netanyahu told them that even though he was talking to Gantz, he had not abandoned them.
If Netanyahu does stick to the bloc, that has the potential to be very disruptive to the coalition-building process. Gantz promised a “secular unity government,” without haredim and without “extremists,” referring to Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich. Blue and White promised to pass a bill to conscript more haredim into the IDF, to require haredim to study the core curriculum, including math and English, to institute civil marriages, expand shops open on Saturdays and many, many other things that the haredim would refuse to do. A government with haredim would go against Blue and White’s, or at the very least its partner party Yesh Atid’s raison d'être.
The bloc could also prevent Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman from joining the coalition, because he too campaigned on a haredi-free government and secularist policies.
Third time’s a charm?
The number three comes into play in two ways in this negotiation.
First, there’s the argument that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz thinks he can succeed on the first try to build a coalition. Therefore, sources say Gantz does not want to be the first to be given a chance, because he thinks he can succeed as the second candidate.
Netanyahu, however, takes things even further, telling the Likud faction on Monday that he thinks both the first and the second attempts at coalition-building will fail, and therefore he wants to be third, at which points he thinks he would succeed. But, he added, he will still make a real effort on the first try.
The other important number three is a third election. Some of Netanyahu’s opponents accuse him of wanting a third election, and say that he is trying to frame Gantz as the reason for coalition talks’ eventual failure.
Netanyahu himself, along with his surrogates in the Likud, say he does not want a third election, and that a unity government is the only way to move forward.
But the question remains, how can it move forward with all of these obstacles in the way?
Only one thing seems to be certain. Whether it’s Blue and White refusing to sit with Netanyahu or the haredim, or Netanyahu promising to keep his right-wing bloc intact, someone will have to go back on his word for anything but a third election to happen.
Lucky thing politicians are not known for keeping their promises.