Some say it’s a bold move. Others say it’s far too risky. Many are scratching their head wondering what he’s thinking. With eight days before having to return the mandate to form Israeli’s government to President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party are sticking to their guns. The message they’re sending: It’s their way or no way at all.
The conservative bloc of MKs, with account for 55 seats, refuses to break up, back down, or abandon Netanyahu. This leaves former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu in a tough spot as they must either rejoin the conservatives they left earlier this year or support Blue and White in a left-wing government that would include the Arab List, a move that would go against their supporters’ secular nationalist wishes.
Otherwise, Israel may be heading for a third election in less than a year.
But what appears to be a stalemate with no negotiations between opposition parties in two weeks may actually be a ploy to give Netanyahu firmer political legs. He appears to be waiting for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to drop the bribery charge against him before coming to the table at the last moment, according to Jerusalem Post:
Sources in Likud confirmed that one of the reasons Netanyahu is not negotiating is that he wants to stall to allow Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to make a decision on his indictment. Netanyahu is seemingly convinced that Mandelblit will drop the bribery charge against him. Should Mandelblit make such a decision before the three weeks in which any candidate can form a government, Likud sources said Netanyahu believes he will have a much easier time building a coalition.
Liberman, who is thought to be the political kingmaker, lashed out at the Likud on Tuesday, blaming Netanyahu’s party for the current political impasse. Speaking following a tour of Herodion National Park with his MKs, Liberman lamented that the Likud did not agree to his request last week to begin immediate negotiations with Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu over the policies of the next government.
Likud’s stance seems to be waiting for an unlikely change of heart by Liberman or a unity government with Netanyahu as Prime Minister. The latter option has been challenged by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz who says they will not form a government with Netanyahu in charge as long as there’s a bribery charge hanging over him. If Mandelblit drops the charge, Gantz will have to choose between going back on his word or submitted to the authority of the conservative bloc.
Israel Katz, the #2 man in the Likud, dispelled hope that he would replace Netanyahu any time soon to appease Blue and White, saying he will lead Likud only when Netanyahu chooses to step away.
If Netanyahu can pull it off and remain Prime Minister, he will be able to continue strong relations with the United States and get to the business of addressing Israel’s mounting risks from multiple directions in the Middle East.
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