Jerusalem- In a masterful display of audacity, Prime Minister Netanyahu has succeeded in turning what may have appeared to be political defeat into a stalemate, with no side capable of claiming victory at present. The Likud adopted a two-pronged initial strategy after the election results came in. Firstly it stressed that Binyamin Netanyahu will not be ousted as head of the party and secondly that the Likud won’t abandon its natural political partners – the national-religious and Chareidi parties.
In the afternoon hours Wednesday, Netanyahu convened the heads of the Yamina and United Torah Judaism parties (Shas leader Aryeh Deri was at a memorial service for the late Religious Services Minister David Azoulay), where the sides decided to wage coalition negotiations as one bloc. In a statement, Likud officials said that a joint negotiating team from right-wing bloc parties, headed by Netanyahu, would work together to establish the next government.
Moreover, Netanyahu realized that the job of forming a government would be a formidable if not insurmountable task for either side. He therefore called on Blue-And-White leader Benny Gantz to join forces with him in forming a national unity government. Gantz predictably refused to even meet with Netanyahu, since his entire campaign revolved around replacing Israel’s prime minister. Yet this puts Gantz in a bad light as the one who may cause yet another election with his refusal to compromise- a thought Israelis don’t even want to entertain
According to the final results which arrived Thursday, Blue-And-White have two more mandates than the Likud, although this may be a somewhat pyrrhic victory considering the difficult job of actually forming the government. Even if Gantz is given a mandate by the president, he is now left with the unfavorable choices of turning to Liberman (who wants a national unity government) or the Arab parties (who do not want Liberman.) His only option will be to try and dismantle the right-wing-Chareidi bloc, but with the anti-Charedi Yair Lapid and other left-wing politicians in his party, this is just not going to happen.
Netanyahu realizes this and during the meeting yesterday with faction heads , he reportedly said “There’s no problem, let the president [Reuven Rivlin] task [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz with forming the government, let him sweat it out. Nothing will come of it. We’ll be one bloc, he can’t do anything.”
Likud ministers reacted sharply to Gantz’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu.
“An attempt is being made to portray Blue and White as striving toward a unity government and that we are doing the reverse. The reality is precisely the opposite,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said. “They are trying to say they want unity, but ‘we reject the head of your party.’ There’s never been such a thing in history.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said at the meeting that “totalitarian parties are boycotting the prime minister; this is the greatest form of cynicism in Israeli politics.”
Likud MK David Bitan said, “Our candidate for the premiership is Netanyahu, we won’t replace him. We won’t do so because another party has vetoed him. We’ve never done so and we won’t do it now. I would advise Blue and White to get off its high horse.”