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Give an Honorable Man His Due

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30 Apr 2021
Give an Honorable Man His Due

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just a few days left to try to form a coalition government before the mandate gets passed to a political rival bent on driving him from office. His chances of success are narrowing by the hour, and thus we may be looking at Netanyahu’s last days in power. But the fact that it has taken four successive elections to pry him from the throne will only add to the legendary status of this formidable Israeli leader and statesman.

After holding four elections in the past two years, Israel remains stuck in a political quagmire. Netanyahu and his Likud party again have the largest number of seats in the new Knesset (30), but he has found it hard to enlist enough partners to form a coalition government supported by a 61–seat majority in parliament. The parties on the Right hold 72 Knesset mandates, but several of these factions are refusing to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu while he is on trial for a series of fraud and breach-of-trust cases.

Netanyahu has until next Tuesday, May 4th, to pull together a governing coalition, but reports suggest he has already given up due to the stiff resistance he is encountering in his own nationalist camp from former-colleagues-turned-adversaries Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope.

There is still a narrow path back to the premiership for Netanyahu if Naftali Bennett’s Yamina faction and the three conservative religious parties (Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ) would be willing to sit in a minority government under him that would be supported from the outside by Mansour Abbas and his small Arab/Islamist party Ra’am. However, Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right religious nationalists, has deliberately torpedoed such an alignment by repeatedly disparaging Abbas and his pragmatist Arab faction.

Meantime, the anti-Netanyahu bloc also will have trouble forming a majority government should they receive a mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to form a government. The reason is that they too would need conservative Jews on the Right to accept outside support from the same Arab party. Netanyahu himself has legitimized such a move by first proposing Ra’am as a possible coalition partner. This could be a breakthrough for societal reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel, but it still would require breaking a political taboo by both sides.

The most viable options for resolving the electoral impasse in coming days involve Bennett serving as prime minister first – either in a rotation deal with Netanyahu and the Right, or in a rotation with Lapid as part of a unity government with the Center/Left. The latter alternative is being vigorously discussed even before Netanyahu’s mandate expires. But Bennett is demanding that the parties on the Right receive most of the prime cabinet postings (Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Judiciary, Education) even if they are a minority within the coalition, since 60% of Israelis voted for parties on the Right. This demand remains a sticking point with Lapid and his leftist allies. Of course, a third option would be going to an unthinkable fifth election, which everyone is vowing to avoid but may prove inevitable.

Most noteworthy in these various scenarios is that the odds for Netanyahu to remain prime minister for now are slim to none. He would have to wait his turn while serving as an “alternate prime minister” – much like Gantz has been doing over the past year. And in such a case, he could try to trigger a new election a year or so down the road if the polls are more favorable. This all means he is unlikely to retain the premiership at this time, yet his political career may be far from over.

Seeing the writing on the wall, some within Likud have been offering ideas for giving Netanyahu an “honorable exit” due to his stature and many achievements for the nation. After all, he did just win the largest number of Knesset seats – by far. One idea would have him voted in as the next president to replace Rivlin this summer, while other suggestions would allow him to stay in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street while someone else takes the first turn as head of the government. So far, he has not been too enthusiastic about any of these proposals and seems prepared to fight on, even in the Opposition – and in the courtroom as well.

However this all plays out next week and beyond, Netanyahu certainly is due more honor and respect for all he has done for Israel than the way some want to hoist him on a pike.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Make sure to also watch the ICEJ Webinar on the topic “Can PM Netanyahu Stay in Power”, hosted by ICEJ VP & Spokesman David Parsons and featuring Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, from Thursday, 29 April 2021, on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel. 

 

 

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