Is Israel Careening Toward Civil War?

Tempers are flaring on both sides after a third successive election ended in another dead heat.

Ballot papers during the March 2, 2020 election (CC David Shai BY-SA 4.0)

Likud leader and acting Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu has charged that Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party are “trying to steal the election!” Netanyahu contends that his Likud party and its right-wing Jewish partners have wound up with more seats than Blue and White in the 120-member Knesset. However, Netanyahu can count on only 58 seats, less than the required 61-seat majority (Blue and White plus the Jewish Left garnered only 47. 

However, the Israeli Arab party took 15 places that could give Gantz a 62-seat majority. But Netanyahu and his right-wing partners categorically reject the idea of Israel’s Arab citizens determining who will become Prime Minister of the Jewish state, and Netanyahu and his supporters have warned that they will not take this sitting down. 

Meanwhile, Gantz and his Blue and White party have emerged black and blue, so to speak, from the latest indecisive election. Even though Netanyahu ran with three indictments for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, he still took more Jewish votes than did Gantz. (Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s trial is due to open later this month). In another shocking incident, one Gantz supporter was beaten up by Likudniks at a public protest demanding that Netanyahu resign and quit politics. In Israel, the Prime Minister continues in office until a new government is sworn in.

Whether one loves or hates Netanyahu, he ran a very tough campaign, appearing numerous times, day and night, all over the country rallying his supporters and pummeling Gantz with a barrage of “dirty tricks.” In response, Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and undoubtedly an officer and a gentleman, retorted, “I will not stoop to Bibi’s level, I believe in running a clean campaign.” On this score, it is fair to say that politics, and not only in Israel, is a snakepit.

Present possibilities …

There are several possibilities.

  • Since Gantz, Labor, and the Israeli Arab Joint List can form a majority, Gantz can offer major concessions, bringing the Arab party into a coalition with a 62-seat majority. To this possibility, an enraged Netanyahu has declared, “This would be stealing the election because more Jewish voters voted Likud.” 
  • The Blue and White party is also considering a rather complicated deal in the Knesset that would ensure Arab support for a minority coalition headed by Gantz. 
  • And what if Gantz went for his own “dirty trick” and tried to persuade the Likud party to dump Bibi and form a national unity cabinet? But this is a very long shot; in fact, forget it. Netanyahu evidently has and will not lose any of his vim and vigor despite his upcoming trial. In fact, he has just declared to his Likud cohorts, “I am not going anywhere!” He plans on remaining PM by hook or by crook, although he cannot at present form the required 61-seat majority in the Knesset. Meanwhile, his minions are apparently scheming and quietly trying to persuade individual Knesset members from Blue and White, Labor, and even the Arab party to jump ship and come aboard the Likud (this in return for a cabinet post or some other juicy job in government). So far, there are no signs of any “political traitors” ready to take the bait.

The acrimonious atmosphere is worsening day by day and recalls a terrible time in November 1995, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic. 

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