NOTE: Middle East Eye published a new post-election piece warning that the so-called Likud victory was nothing of the sort.
What a difference a day (or two) makes! In the hours following the Israeli election, journalists in Israel and around the world saw the Likud had picked up five new seats and celebrated a major right-wing electoral victory. But what they neglected to consider was that those 36 Likud seats, as remarkable an achievement as that might be, were not the important number. That was 61. And despite those gains, Bibi did not have the 61 seats to cobble together a majority. He had 58, and while that is close, it’s impossible unless you can find those extra three seats.
With Avigdor Lieberman adamantly opposed to joining a Likud coalition, it left Netanyahu out in the cold. And opened an opportunity for Blue and White to form a new government.
Blue and White has also pulled a rabbit from its hat rather deftly by proposing a bill for the new Knesset which would prohibit election of a prime minister under indictment. There is a strong majority in favor of this bill. There may even be some votes among the Right-Wing Bloc in support. With the Joint List joining Lieberman Party and Blue and White, they will be able to pass it.
That will offer Likud the option of either toppling Netanyahu (who is under indictment) or going meekly into Opposition with Netanyahu remaining in charge. This, in turn, would lead to a minority Israel government: meaning that Blue and White would govern along with Lieberman, with the Joint List agreeing not to topple the government. The problem, of course, is that this coalition cannot pass any legislation unless both Lieberman and the Joint List agree. That, in turn, means that no laws can be enacted that offend either one. Which is a recipe for a Knesset likely to achieve very little. But such a legislative body is preferable to one which has poisoned the well of the Israeli state for decades, and forced its inhabitants to drink from it.
There is another alternative which seems remote: that Blue and White and Likud could join in a government of “national unity.” It would mean that Blue and White would force Likud to shed its most toxic far-right coalition partners in order to form a center-right governing coalition. The problem with this option is that it isn’t far removed from the Blue and White minority government in that each wing of the coalition would have the power to stymie the other from passing legislation it favored. That too is a recipe for stasis.
The prospect of a real–albeit minority–government for the first time in a year, and after three separate elections, will permit Israelis to breathe a sign of relief. Until, of course they start bellyaching, like the Israelites in the Sinai, about the inadequacies of the government and its inability to get things done.
Let’s also not forget that despite the relief from the burden of a far-right ruling coalition, Blue and White doesn’t offer much difference in terms of ideology. It is a softer version of Likud. So instead of a train hurtling down the tracks to oblivion at full-speed, Blue and White offers a slower moving train with more cautious engineers, but heading in the same direction.
Eventually, and sooner rather than later, there will be a new election. By then, if Netanyahu has been convicted the Likud will presumably have new leadership. If he has not, then it may be “déjà vu all over again.”