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Electoral Math: Gantz-led Israeli Minority Gov’t Not Adding Up
Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz and candidate Moshe Ya'alon campaign in the Israeli settlement of Vered Yericho, overlooking the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, January 21. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Electoral Math: Gantz-led Israeli Minority Gov’t Not Adding Up

While politics makes for strange bedfellows, agreement on such a fragile union appears increasingly unlikely

Moshe Ya’alon, head of the right-wing Telem faction of Israel’s centrist Blue and White political alliance, insisted on Thursday that the primary objective of forming a minority government reliant on outside support from the predominantly Arab Joint List would be to oust the country’s longest-serving leader.

“We will form any government that will make it so [Binyamin] Netanyahu will not remain on the prime minister’s throne,” Ya’alon said.

He also addressed growing criticism that while campaigning, high-ranking Blue and White legislators, including alliance chief Benny Gantz, had ruled out courting the Joint List.

“The election results put us in the position of choosing which promise to break,” Ya’alon said. “In this situation, removing Netanyahu is the main goal.”

The comments come amid a rebellion by two Telem lawmakers who said they will refuse to sit in a coalition backed by Arab parties. And on Wednesday, the head of the Gesher party, which is part of a political union with Labor and Meretz, said she, too, was not committed to the formation of a Gantz-led minority government.

Yet the issue could be moot given the likelihood that three lawmakers from the Balad party, considered the most extreme wing of the Joint List, will refuse to recommend at all that Gantz be tasked with forming the next government.

In all of these scenarios, Gantz’s bloc would fall short of the 61-seat majority threshold in Israel’s 120-member parliament.

Blue and White garnered 33 seats in last Monday’s national election, the third in under a year following inconclusive votes in April and September 2019.

For his part, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 36 seats, but his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc took home 58 seats, also shy of a majority.

“The latest election was a referendum on Netanyahu,” Dan Meridor, Israel’s former deputy prime minister and long-time Likud stalwart, told The Media Line. “There was little [campaign] talk about Iran, the Palestinians or the economy, and in the event of a minority government, there will have to be compromises.

“Finding sufficient common ground is not guaranteed,” Meridor continued. “It is easy to unite against Netanyahu, but then you still have to govern. This requires agreements between the parties, and, presently, some of them are on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum.”

Indeed, Gantz’s initiative has reached a crossroads due to key policy differences among the players.

Specifically, there is a huge chasm between the Joint List and Yisrael Beitenu, with Liberman in the past having drawn the ire of Arab Israelis by suggesting that some of their northern towns and villages be transferred over to Palestinian control in the event of a future peace deal.

Moreover, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh has conditioned support for Blue and White on Gantz’s agreement to not annex any West Bank territories in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s Middle East proposal.

For Gantz, this is a political hot potato – perhaps even a non-starter – and could, therefore, similarly constitute an unbridgeable sticking point.

“First of all, a new government needs to win the backing of a majority in parliament for it to be confirmed. Then, a new budget must be passed within 100 days,” Dr. Assaf Shapira, director of the Political Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute, explained in reference to the initial hurdles Gantz would need to overcome. “Most of the time, specific arrangements are outlined in advance, whether they relate to the passage of laws or foreign policy, such as [the US] peace agreement. In the current case, there would likely be a focus on matters applying to religion and state,” he told The Media Line.

According to Shapira, minority governments have, historically, been viewed as inefficient, if not altogether illegitimate due to the perception that democracies should be governed by majority rule.

“It is not necessarily true that minority governments are less stable, especially when it comes to Israel, where majority coalitions have regularly fallen before the end of their term,” Shapira explained. “It depends on numerous factors. Generally, the smaller the number of parties involved, and the fewer divisions between them, the more balanced they are.

“Given the [gulf] between the Joint List and Yisrael Beitenu, there will be difficulties,” he predicted.

The formation of a minority government in the immediate aftermath of an election would be unprecedented in Israel, where such has only materialized after one faction seceded from an existing ruling coalition.

Today, the scenario from the get-go seems increasingly implausible. And given Gantz’s repeated vow not to sit in a coalition led by Netanyahu, whose trial on corruption charges in three separate cases begins on March 17, the political stalemate in Jerusalem appears to have persisted.

Politics may make for strange bedfellows, but few are discounting the possibility of another election in the immediate future.

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