Three months ago, Benny Gantz turned down an offer to join a unity government with Likud, under which Benjamin Netanyahu would be prime minister for three months, followed by Gantz as prime minister for the following two years. Had he accepted, Gantz would have been the prime minister of Israel beginning next week.
Instead, Gantz and his centrist Blue and White party emerged from Israel’s Knesset election on Monday weaker, with Netanyahu, the Likud and their allies two seats short of a parliamentary majority.
Israelis surged to the polls, giving the Likud 36 seats and making it the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset. With 97 percent of the votes counted as we went to press, Blue and White had 32 seats.
There are many explanations given for the results of Monday’s election. All seem to agree that the electorate tired of the indecision and the lack of functional government over the past year, and was troubled by the two previous inconclusive election contests between the same protagonists. But even with Likud’s significant gains, it isn’t yet clear what the final results will be. While a Netanyahu-led government may be back in business, it remains possible that it will only be able to do so with Blue and White or some of its members as a junior partner.
No matter its makeup, the next Israeli government will have to move forward with a fractured voter population, the pendency of Netanyahu’s criminal trial beginning on March 17 and the divisive issues raised by the Trump peace plan. Add to that the growing alienation of the Diaspora over fears of a possible one-state solution that demeans Palestinians and theocratic rule by an inflexible rabbinate, and the challenges seem very significant. We worry about the vast majority of American Jews who find themselves in the uncomfortable center.
Among the election’s biggest losers is Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Israel Beiteinu party, which won seven seats. After each of the last inconclusive elections, he could have joined a coalition. He could have exerted influence in government and could have helped advance the interests of his large Russian constituency. Instead, he went for broke and steadily lost seats, influence and credibility.
The other big loser appears to be Israel’s Zionist left, whose combined parties won only seven seats. In the run-up to this week’s election, reports indicated that the Israeli electorate — and especially the politicians — feared that an inconclusive election would force a fourth round. At least for now, given the increased support for Netanyahu and his rightward-leaning coalition, it looks like that will be unnecessary. We join in watching to see exactly how it will all play out.