With war clouds scudding over the Persian Gulf, Israel goes to the polls Tuesday to try to unravel the deadlock that prevented the emergence of a government from the last election — only five months ago. Yet the half year of politicking has brought scant clarity to the prospects for Prime Minister Netanyahu, already the longest serving premier in the history of the modern Jewish state.
To get what he wants from this election, Mr. Netanyahu needs 61 of the 120 votes in the Knesset. He seeks a coalition composed of the Likud, the right-wing nationalist parties, and the religious parties. That would enable him to remain prime minister and gain a coalition vote against revoking his parliamentary immunity, which the laws of the Knesset allow.
That means that the coalition partners would have Mr. Netanyahu so far over a barrel that he would grant them just about everything they wanted. Until a few days ago, polls suggested this was improbable. As we go to what passes for press in the Internet age, it seems less improbable, since the latest polls show such a coalition getting 58 or 59 seats with the momentum on its side.
Then again, too, there’s a second scenario in which Mr. Netanyahu fails to gain his right-wing coalition — but a center-left coalition is also impossible. That’s because to gain 61 Knesset votes, a center-left ensemble would not only have to include the 11 or 12 members of the Arab list, nearly all of whose members are radically anti-Israel, but would also have to include the faction led by Avigdor Lieberman.
The hardline Mr. Lieberman and the Arabs agreeing to sit in the same government is less thinkable than, say, a coalition between Donald Trump Jr. and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The alternative is what Mr. Lieberman has been driving at, a “national unity government” of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud and the more liberal opposition, known as Blue & White, with Mr. Lieberman’s faction taking part.
Such a government, in which the two leading parties would have almost the same number of Knesset seats (the latest polls show them both with between 31 and 33) would have to be one in which the four-year prime minister’s term was subject to rotation – the first two years for one party (presumably the one with more seats, although they could tie), the next two for the other.
That happened in the 1980s, with Labor’s Shimon Peres and Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir. For Netanyahu this would mean that, even if he got to go first, he would not get his immunity (there is no way Blue & White’s Benny Gantz et al would, or could, agree to it). That would almost certainly mean that within a few months Mr. Netanyahu would be forced to resign under criminal indictment.
At the moment, all that stands between him and an indictment is a formal hearing, scheduled for October, at which his lawyers can argue one last time against it. The betting is — sadly, in our view — that Mr. Netanyahu is unlikely to avoid charges by such a route. So a Likud-Blue & White coalition is really an impasse that threatens a third election that might well solve no more than the first two.
So it’s not hard to imagine a third possibility — an internal revolt within Likud against Mr. Netanyahu. That might be led by any or several of the contenders to be his successor — Gideon Sa’ar, maybe, Yisra’el Katz, or Yuri Edelstein, or one or two others — all of whom have been loath to come out against him but who would no longer have to fear him under the new circumstances.
Were Mr. Netanyahu so deposed, a Likud-Blue & White “national unity government” could be established to end the crisis. The Sun doesn’t endorse in foreign elections, but we don’t mind saying we’ve wished Mr. Netanayhu well since his accession to finance minister and his start at liberating Israel from socialism. Even if he loses, he has proven himself a winner. Few politicians today can say that.
Image: Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.