News from September 23-September 30

Israeli election update

L’Shana Tova! Happy New Year! 5280 is going to be a big year! I’m going to keep this brief because of the holiday and I’m a little under the weather. Also, big news! New year, new URL:

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Israeli election update:

What’s happened in the last week? As you may recall from last week, Benny Gantz’s center-left bloc is sitting at 54 seats while Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is sitting at 55. Gantz briefly hit 57 seats when the Arab List decided to recommend him as Prime Minister. However, one of the constituent parties of the Arab List decided against recommending Gantz, lowering his bloc to 54 seats. Since Netanyahu’s bloc had more seats than Gantz, President Reuven Rivlin gave the “mandate” to Netanyahu, which means that Netanyahu was given the right to attempt to form a coalition first. To date, Netanyahu has not been able to form a coalition.

Why can’t Netanyahu form a coalition? Immediately after the election, Netanyahu announced that his 55-seat right-wing bloc would be entering coalition talks together, meaning that negotiating with Netanyahu necessarily requires negotiating with the religious parties as well. One reason for negotiating as a bloc is that he would only need one party to defect to the right-wing bloc (all eyes on Labor) to form a coalition. Another reason is that it reduces the probability of right-wing parties defecting to help Gantz form a coalition. A consequence of negotiating as a bloc is that many of the secular parties refuse to work with the religious parties. Notably, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party forced the second round of elections because his party refuses to sit in a coalition with the religious parties. 

Why is Gantz negotiating with Netanyahu? Believe it or not, Likud and Blue and White are among the most ideologically similar parties. A government that would represent the broadest swathe of Israeli society would be a unity government of Blue and White and Likud. Since Liberman isn’t budging and the more liberal parties don’t seem to want anything to do with Netanyahu, the only real way Netanyahu could form a coalition would be with the help of Blue and White. So far, Gantz has blamed the lack of progress on coalition talks on Netanyahu’s insistence on including the entire right-wing bloc in a prospective coalition. Also, Gantz’s party campaigned on not sitting in a coalition with Netanyahu while he is still facing indictment. Unless the leader of the largest party in the Knesset breaks a substantial campaign promise or joins what amounts to be a firmly right-wing government, it’s hard to see how a coalition with both Likud and Blue and White can be formed. 

What does Gantz have to gain by sitting in a coalition with Netanyahu? It’s a virtual guarantee that if Gantz changes his mind and joins Likud in some way that he will be Prime Minister at some point in the next four years. The question is when. Netanyahu wants to go first because it gives him some protection while he faces criminal charges. There is also speculation that they could time Netanyahu’s term in office to finish around the time of the next Israeli presidential election in 2021, allowing him to run. Regardless, President Rivlin has proposed a deal that would see Netanyahu and Gantz each be Prime Minister for two years and equally split the ministerial portfolios between the two parties (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Defense, etc.).

Did Gantz intentionally let Netanyahu try to form a coalition first? Maybe. It was reported that Gantz preferred to have the mandate after Netanyahu tries and fails to form a coalition. That way, there would be more pressure on Likud MKs to defect to join Gantz’s prospective coalition because they want to avoid a third round of elections. Yair Rosenberg of Tablet explains this very well (read this article!): 

“The opposition’s (risky) bet is that letting Netanyahu try and fail will significantly boost their chances of success. Like last election, they are banking on the assumption that Netanyahu will fail to form a coalition, while this time, he will also have to go through his scheduled indictment hearing for corruption on October 3. By the time Blue & White gets their turn, Bibi will have both his coalition failure and indictment hanging over him, and the specter of extremely unpopular third elections looming. With lawmakers’ backs against the wall, the opposition will then have a much better chance at forming a coalition, either by getting Likud members to defect to their side, compelling Likud to depose Netanyahu, or getting the hobbled former prime minister to agree to more favorable terms.”

In fact, it was reported that the one party in the Joint List that didn’t endorse Gantz actually did so at his request so that he wouldn’t have more prospective seats than Netanyahu. Intrigue!

What now? Netanyahu will reportedly “return the mandate” (aka admit he can’t form a coalition) to President Rivlin. The President is then expected to let Gantz try to form a coalition. If he fails, there will be a period where any MK can attempt to create a coalition. That time will be interesting because Avigdor Liberman will undoubtedly try to form a coalition (and will likely fail). After that, if nobody can form a coalition, there will be a third election. Also, keep an eye on the stability of Blue and White. If Gantz gives in and joins Netanyahu, Blue and White will likely split up because it is technically three parties that combined and one of the leaders of its constituent parties, Yair Lapid, is unlikely to sit in a coalition with religious parties. 

Read more: Seriously, read Yair’s article. It’s really, really good: (Tablet) 

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