Mar 5, 2020 - World

Israel’s opposition uniting in bid to bring down Netanyahu

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Israel's election committee has published the results of Monday's election showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing bloc with 58 seats — three short of the parliamentary majority needed to form a government.

Why it matters: Worse still for Netanyahu, particularly in the wake of what looked like a remarkable victory, a majority might now be uniting behind an effort to effectively end his political career. His corruption trial, meanwhile, is set to begin in just 12 days.

Breaking it down: Netanyahu's Likud Party won the most seats in Monday's election, with 36. Allied right-wing parties won an additional 22.

  • The Blue and White Party, led by Netanyahu's centrist rival Benny Gantz, won 33 seats. The liberal Labor Party won another 7 seats.
  • The Joint List of predominantly Arab Parties had its best-ever showing, winning 15 seats.
  • Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party, which split from Netanyahu in 2018 and had been refusing to align with either major party, won 7.

The big picture: Israeli politics have been deadlocked for nearly a year, with Netanyahu and Gantz both failing to form majority governments after the two previous elections.

Driving the news: But this time could be different. Lieberman, who previously pushed for a Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, now says he will recommend Gantz to form the next government.

  • If the Joint List does the same, that will put 62 seats behind Gantz, at least temporarily, and make it likely that President Reuven Rivlin will offer him a mandate to form a government.
  • For now, the Joint List has said it's open to supporting Gantz but only if he makes "a change truly in the direction of peace and equality."
  • If he does get the first crack at forming a government, Gantz will also control the parliamentary agenda during that process.

Between the lines: That's crucial because Lieberman has also said he'd support a bill to prevent anyone under criminal indictment from forming a government. That's clearly targeted at Netanyahu.

  • If an anti-Netanyahu coalition does come together in the coming days, it will be deeply unstable.
  • Lieberman's party and the Joint List are bitter rivals, and it's unclear whether they'd be willing to unite behind a Gantz government.
  • But even a temporary alliance could be enough to ensure that if Israel is forced to hold an unprecedented fourth election, Netanyahu won't be a candidate for prime minister.
  • Netanyahu has no clear path to the majority needed to form a government, though he's pulled rabbits out of his hat before.

The bottom line: It's still far too early to declare the end of Netanyahu's reign as Israel's longest-serving prime minister. But it's becoming increasingly clear what the end might look like.

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