With 98% of the vote counted, Benny Gantz and Blue and White have slightly expanded their lead over Likud. The count is now B&W 33, Likud 31, Joint List 13. More telling is a move that really seems to be Netanyahu giving up the game. I’ll note that people I follow who are closer and better informed about Israeli politics don’t seem to see it that way. But I’ll share my take nonetheless.
Netanyahu today has been saying he wants to form a broad national unity government and he’s invited Gantz to come talk about it with him. Gantz has replied, rather obviously, that he thinks that’s a great idea. But he’d be Prime Minister, not Netanyahu.
For years, Netanyahu has relied on a narrow but durable nationalist-religious bloc to remain in power. He now seems to be admitting that that is not possible. There’s a lot of math and political logic to a broad government that would include both big parties – or at least a big chunk of Likud. But there’s simply no rationale for why Netanyahu would lead it.
The first is the most obvious. Gantz leads the bigger party. So he’s the PM. There’s no rule that’s the case. There was a power-sharing agreement in the mid-80s. But it’s the strong default.
Second is something more specific to this election. In many ways, Blue and White is an anti-Netanyahu party. Its ability to pull votes from the center, a bit of the center right and a good deal of what remains of the more cosmopolitan Labor left is the premise that it could topple Netanyahu. It’s ideology if it exists is largely a stealth one. To the extent it exists it is a series of contrasts to Netanyahu. Because of his corruption, his escalating politics of incitement and explicit racism, attacks on the rule of law. Blue and White was a party to end Netanyahu’s rule in Israel. So it’s simply impossible to imagine that Blue and White would get more seats and still join a government led by Netanyahu.
As I said, this looks to me like him giving up the game. He’s conceding that only a broad unity government is viable. But it’s obvious that he can’t lead it. At a certain point you have to admit the obvious. But it’s hard to see how he comes back from doing so.