Public opinion polls show that people blame Netanyahu the most, then Liberman, followed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with a huge margin between them.
No one is taking responsibility, unsurprisingly. Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. The Likud says it’s because of Blue and White, Blue and White says it’s because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says he has “zero percent” of a role in all this, it’s all the two big parties.
They are certainly all at fault. They all played a part in the hundreds of millions of shekels being wasted between the cost of holding an election and market losses on another day off work. They all have a hand in the political paralysis of the past year, weakening our security, our social services and our economy, plunging us further into national debt.
The 20th Knesset could have lasted until last month, if it lived out its days.
The whole early election cycle was kicked off when Liberman resigned from the Defense Ministry a year ago and took his party out of the coalition, because he felt Israel’s response to attacks from Gaza was too weak and he was repeatedly overruled in the security cabinet. Several weeks later, an early election was called.
After running an entire campaign in which he said he would recommend Netanyahu as prime minister and April’s election, Liberman did an about-face and refused to join a Netanyahu-led coalition. He set conditions on matters of religion and state – which were not the focus of the campaign – that would be very difficult for the haredi parties to accept. When Shas and United Torah Judaism convinced their respective councils of Torah scholars to somewhat compromise on the haredi IDF conscription bill, Liberman rejected them as not going far enough. Then, he ran his next election campaign on being a secularist warrior.
Ahead of the second election, Liberman said a unity government was the only way to go. He kept to that to this very day, even at the expense of a third election, which he himself said would be a disaster for Israel. He refused to join a narrow right-wing government led by Netanyahu or a minority government led by Gantz with outside support from the Joint List, which could have staved off a third election in one year.
Netanyahu shoulders much of the blame, as well. A year ago, he called an early election, ostensibly because he could not keep a coalition together with a one-seat majority, and he could not bring the parties in his government to agree on a draft of a haredi conscription bill that would satisfy the High Court of Justice before the deadline it had set. The other reason, sources have said, was that Netanyahu thought he could get reelected before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit recommended corruption charges against him. That did not work out, with the recommendations coming in February and the election in April.
After the first election, parties amounting to 65 seats in the Knesset recommended Netanyahu as prime minister, but Liberman would not join Netanyahu’s coalition for the aforementioned reasons. Netanyahu was not able to convince Liberman or the haredim to compromise enough. Rather than attempt to form a government with just 60 Knesset seats, which would be shaky, but not impossible, or to follow the process listed in the law, which would allow Gantz to try to build a coalition, Netanyahu pushed for another election, dissolving the Knesset.
In September, the Right not only lost Liberman, but it did worse than it had before, with only 55 MKs recommending Netanyahu. The prime minister convinced the leaders of the other right-wing parties to form a bloc that would stick with him, and he remained loyal to them. The logic was if he did not keep them close, one of them might agree to join a Gantz-led coalition, giving Netanyahu’s opponent a majority. That plan worked, but what it meant was negotiations stalled for months, because Blue and White’s policy positions, especially on social issues, could not work with those of the parties to the Likud’s Right.
Eventually, Blue and White started to waver on that matter, but Netanyahu insisted on being first in a rotation for the premiership, for the sake of continuity, he explained, and to take advantage of his great ties with US President Donald Trump, but what he did not say is that going to trial as prime minister would likely give him an advantage.
Then there’s Blue and White. From the get-go, it was the “anyone but Bibi” party. Its raison d’etre was to get Netanyahu out of office, but it didn’t have much of a chance until September.
Blue and White would not negotiate with the Likud in any real way when Netanyahu had the mandate to form a government, canceling meetings at the last minute, or showing up but not saying anything of substance. Then, when it was Gantz’s turn, it tried to negotiate, but it was clear from the start that it did not want to be in a government with Netanyahu. After all, it had said since the first election that Netanyahu is corrupt and cannot lead the country while handling his extensive legal troubles. And as mentioned before, it wanted the Likud to give up on the other right-wing parties.
Gantz seemed to be willing to compromise at various points, but Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, two of the party’s other leaders, don’t trust Netanyahu. They would form a unity government only if Netanyahu was not prime minister first in a rotation – an offer they knew he would refuse – because they thought he would call an election before having to give up the premiership to Gantz. Netanyahu went so far as to say he would be prime minister only for six months before Gantz would take his place, but for Blue and White, it was first or nothing.
Since Mandelblit announced the final charges against Netanyahu, Blue and White returned to its position that Netanyahu is too corrupt to be prime minister, and it called on Netanyahu to give up on his right to ask the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, but Netanyahu has refused.
To quote a Shakespearean curse: “A plague on both your houses!” There is no innocent party in this electoral feud. None of the main players in this political drama are free of blame for the third election and the citizens of Israel are being dragged into a situation hardly anyone seems to want.