by Caroline Glick
The final issue that will determine whether or not Netanyahu forms the next government.
Caroline Glick is the Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center's Israel Security
Project and the Senior Contributing Editor of The Jerusalem Post. For
more information on Ms. Glick's work, visit carolineglick.com.
Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s
longest-serving prime minister on Friday, and he is favored to win the
next elections in September. But the outcome is still uncertain.
On Sunday, the President tweeted: “Congratulations to Bibi @Netanyahu on
becoming the longest serving PM in the history of Israel. Under your
leadership, Israel has become a technology powerhouse and a world class
“….Most importantly you have led Israel with a commitment to the values
of democracy, freedom, and equal opportunity that both our nations
cherish and share!”
Netanyahu quickly thanked Trump for his support, tweeting,
“Thank you, President Trump, for your warm words, outstanding support
& incredible friendship. I’m honored to have the opportunity to work
with you. Under your leadership, we’ve made the alliance between our
two remarkable countries stronger than ever. I know there’s more to
The exchange between the two leaders is a testament to
the strength of their relationship, perhaps the strongest relationship a
U.S. president has ever had with an Israeli leader. The strength of
their ties has played a key role in the rapid expansion of the
U.S.-Israel alliance during Trump’s tenure.
To get a sense of
how intimate the relations have become, consider the reports in the Arab
media regarding last Thursday’s mysterious airstrike against an Iranian
missile base in Nineveh province in Iraq. According to the Arab media,
Israeli bombers carried out the bombing after taking off from a U.S.
airbase along the tri-border between Israel, Jordan and Syria.
The allegations themselves show that the Arabs and the Iranians view
U.S.-Israel ties to be deeper and far more operational than ever before.
In light of the unprecedented growth of U.S.-Israel ties under Trump and Netanyahu, it makes sense that Trump is frustrated that Netanyahu is now standing for election for the second time in a year.
Trump administration officials have reportedly expressed concerns to
their Israeli interlocutors about Netanyahu’s political future and his
possible successors in the event he is defeated in the September 17
To recall, Israel held general elections on April 9. Netanyahu and his Likud Party won a commanding mandate to form a governing coalition. Likud garnered 35 seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. Blue and White, the center-left party that competed against Likud, also won 35 seats, with slightly fewer votes. But overall, the center-right and right-wing parties won 55 percent of the vote, to the center-left and left’s 36 percent. The remainder of the vote went to Arab parties that traditionally have refused to join any governing coalition.
Despite the right/center-right’s commanding electoral victory, two
obstacles blocked Netanyahu from forming a coalition government and
compelled him to call for new elections.
First, Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s former defense minister and the head of the small Israel Beitenu party, refused to join the
coalition. Liberman’s party won five seats in April and so gave
Netanyahu’s coalition a potential majority of 65 seats out of 120. By
refusing to join the coalition, Liberman prevented Netanyahu from
forming a governing majority.
The second reason Netanyahu was
unable to form a government was the fragmentation of the ideological
right wing. Just as elections were being called in December 2018,
then-education minister Naftali Bennett and then-justice minister Ayelet
they were bolting their party and forming a new, more socially liberal
party called the New Right. (Full disclosure: the author ran as a
candidate on the New Right list.) Also running was a former Likud
lawmaker named Moshe Feiglin, whose Zehut party shared similar positions on social and economic issues the New Right.
That splintered the ideological right. Israel’s electoral law requires
parties to win a minimum of 3.25 percent of the overall vote, which
translates into four Knesset seats, to cross the electoral threshold.
Cumulatively, the New Right and Zehut won 6 percent of the vote, the
equivalent of seven Knesset seats. But neither of them crossed the
threshold. The right lost seven seats it would otherwise have run, and
Netanyahu lost the ability to form a government without Liberman.
Liberman insisted that
his refusal to join Netanyahu’s government owed to his opposition to
the ultra-Orthodox parties that form the core of the Likud’s natural
coalition partners. But neither the general public nor the Israeli
commentariat believed his claims. The two men have a thirty-year
relationship that has known its ups and downs. Most Israelis believe
that Liberman was motivated by hatred of Netanyahu. Once it was clear
that the election results gave Liberman the power to block Netanyahu
from forming a government, Liberman was in a position to dictate his
terms for joining the coalition. Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox
parties were willing to accept his demands. The fact that Liberman still
refused to make a deal demonstrated that his desire to destroy
Netanyahu politically outweighed rational political calculations.
The polling data taken
since the election in April indicates that there has been no movement
along the right-left political spectrum. Fifty-five percent of Israelis
still identify with the right and center-right. And Netanyahu remains
the leader that the public wishes to see in standing at the helm of the
At the same time, the repeat elections that
Liberman was able to instigate due to the fragmentation of the
ideological right revolve around one issue: Netanyahu.
left, parties are being formed and organized around this issue. Former
Israeli premier Ehud Barak reentered the political fray as the head of a
new party – the Israel Democratic Party – with the sole agenda of unseating Netanyahu. Blue and White also insists it will not join a coalition government with Netanyahu.
The main dispute that seems to be animating and fragmenting the left
in fact is whether any of the parties in the bloc will be willing to
join a coalition led by Netanyahu. Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, a
former union leader and avowed socialist, forged a coalition with
another socialist party last week. Both he and his new partner, Gesher
Party leader Orly Levy, have hinted that
they will be willing to break ranks and join a Netanyahu-led coalition.
If they follow through after the elections, they will neutralize
Liberman’s power to make or break the next government.
right, three issues will determine whether the 55 percent of Israelis
who favor right-wing or center-right parties will see the formation of a
center-right government under Netanyahu’s leadership.
The first issue is whether the bloc without Liberman will have the requisite 61 Knesset seats to form a government . Current polling still gives Liberman the kingmaker role. But it is hard to credit polls so early on in the race.
The second question is what will happen on the ideological right. A
week remains before the parties finalize their lists and submit them to
the Central Elections Commission. Currently, negotiations are ongoing
between Shaked and Bennett’s New Right party and the Jewish Home party
they abandoned. The parties hope to unify and bring in another
right-wing splinter party. If these negotiations succeed, the prospect
of April’s vote dump repeating itself will diminish significantly.
Netanyahu’s prospects of forming a government without Liberman will rise
The final issue that will determine whether or not
Netanyahu forms the next government is whether and how many other
politicians on the right will join Liberman in working to overthrow
Netanyahu, even at the price of allowing the formation of a leftist
Within Likud, senior politicians have told
Breitbart News that they will not permit a third election. “If Netanyahu
can’t form a government this time around, he will be unseated,” one
senior party official said. Several others agree.
also said clearly that they will prefer to form a government with Blue
and White without Netanyahu than to hold a third election.
In short, while the Israeli public shares the
Trump administration’s view that Netanyahu is the best man to lead
Israel today, a handful of Israeli politicians in key positions would be
willing if not happy to see him go.
The clarity of his
expected mandate will determine whether these politicians – motivated by
ambition and envy — succeed or fail.
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