Israel could be braced for fresh elections unless former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff Benny Gantz can pull together a governing coalition by midnight on Tuesday.
Gantz’s Blue and White coalition won 33 seats in the elections in September, but it was Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 32, who was asked by Israeli President Reuvin Rivlin to try and put together 61 members of the Knesset to reach a governing majority.
Netanyahu was unable to do so and in October, Reuvin asked Gantz to try to assemble a coalition. Talks on a unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz have repeatedly failed after the veteran Israeli prime minister insisted that he be at the head of it.
Netanyahu has also frustrated efforts by Gantz to involve Israeli’s Arab parties, which won 13 seats in the last election, in a coalition. He claims that he has a 55 seat bloc in the Knesset that “cannot be broken”, making it almost impossible for Gantz to put together a government.
“Netanyahu has delegitimised any political participation of the Arab parties which means that Benny Gantz loses a significant portion of potential partners,” Mohammed Darawshe, the director of the Center for Equality and Shared Society, told Euronews’ Good Morning Europe.
But Darawshe also highlighted the role played by Avigdor Lieberman, a former Netanyahu ally turned critic, who has eight seats in parliament. Although Lieberman has backed Gantz over Netanyahu, his party will not enter a coalition that involves Arab parties.
When the deadline passes at midnight Tuesday, Israel will enter a 21 day period during which any party that believes it has a 61 seat majority can try to form a government. Given that the two biggest parties have ruled out a coalition, however, an agreement is extremely unlikely.
All eyes will now be on Netanyahu, who is facing imminent indictment over corruption charges which he denies. If the Israeli prime minister is indicted on charges in the next 21 days he will be “out of the scene”, Darawshe said. “That seems to be what Gantz is gambling on.”
If Israel does face another election, Netanyahu will be buoyed by the decision of the U.S. this week to reverse its policy on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, ruling that it did not consider them illegal, per se, under international law.
Netanyahu has long relied on the support of the right wing pro-settlement movement and will likely make annexation of swathes of the West Bank - including the Jordan Valley - a campaign pledge. He will also be able to highlight his close relationship with President Donald Trump.