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Looking at Israel’s political battle when the Gaza war is over

CM 20/05/2021

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 The focus of what are likely the final days of Operation Guardian of the Walls has been on whether the IDF would succeed in assassinating one of the heads of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The focus of the first days after Operation Guardian of the Walls will be on whether the opposition in Israel will succeed in carrying out the political removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The time limits of the military operation were unknown, depending mostly on the patience of US President Joe Biden. The time limits of the political operation are known, thanks to the mandate to form a government given to opposition leader Yair Lapid by President Reuven Rivlin.
The mandate will end on June 2, the same day that Rivlin’s successor will be elected by the Knesset. If a government will be formed by then, Rivlin will receive closure, after presiding over five elections and many attempts to build coalitions.
If Lapid’s mandate ends without a government, a three-week period of political chaos would ensue, in which any MK could obtain the signatures of more than half the Knesset and seek to build a coalition and avoid a fifth election in two-and-a-half years that would likely be set for October 5.
In such a scenario, Netanyahu, Lapid, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz could all try to form a government at the same time. Gantz’s stock would rise, due to the previous coalition agreement that would automatically have him replace Netanyahu as prime minister on November 17, right around the time that the first mandate to form a government given by the new president would conclude.
Netanyahu faced accusations that he either purposely started the military escalation or extended it because Lapid had been given the mandate five days earlier. The critics charged that he inflamed tensions to try to stay in power.

The Likud fiercely refuted those charges, noting that Hamas started the escalation by firing at Israel’s capital on Jerusalem Day. As for keeping the fighting going, the IDF has pushed for that, and Gantz, who has run the operation as defense minister, has no political interest in keeping half the country in bomb shelters and enabling Netanyahu to stay in power.
“Anyone claiming that the operation in Gaza came from political considerations is somewhere between delusional and a traitor,” Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said.
Zohar said Netanyahu’s political fate remained up in the air, and the day after the operation ends, Israel would be in the same exact place it was politically the day before it started.
“There has been no dramatic change,” he said. “There has been no breakthrough, and with no breakthrough, we are going to another election.”
Zohar said despite reports to the contrary, no progress had been made toward any kind of government in which Netanyahu would alternate as prime minister with Bennett, Sa’ar or Gantz. And as for Bennett, Zohar said his intentions were unclear before the operation and they will remain unclear when it is over.
When the rockets were fired at Jerusalem, Bennett appeared to be forming a government of change with Lapid and Ra’am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas, but politicians in both political camps questioned whether his heart was in it.
Four days into the operation, he leaked that such a government was off the table, due to the spate of violence between Arabs and Jews in mixed cities. But even those he briefed personally said they were unsure whether they could believe him.
Some sources in Yamina said the decision was not final and Bennett would consider all coalition possibilities ahead of the end of Lapid’s mandate. Calling it a move to alleviate pressure from right-wing protesters, they said Bennett made a point of never saying it to the cameras or in an official press release or statement on social media.
The sources said Bennett could also consider many options during the three-week period after Lapid’s mandate.
“It is very possible that when we would get to the 21 days, if all of the other options failed, we would try to get the signatures necessary for the third mandate,” a Yamina source said. “That way we could keep negotiations with both sides and avoid an election if we come to that.”
Others in the party called the option of a government of change “dead.” Yamina MKs used that word immediately after Bennett briefed them in the Knesset on Wednesday.
Labor and Meretz leaders have called on Lapid to form a coalition of 61 MKs with Ra’am and the Joint List and without Yamina. Sa’ar, who did not receive a courtesy briefing from Bennett before the leak to the press, has ruled out enabling the formation of such a government, but he has not ruled out using it as a threat to bring Bennett back to the fold.
Enabling a government in which Sa’ar would go first in a rotation with Netanyahu was ruled out by New Hope after it was brought to the surface in mediation attempts by Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich.
Bills that would prevent Netanyahu from running in a fifth election would receive New Hope’s support, but may not have a majority, due to opposition from Yamina and Ra’am. In a meeting of representatives of the parties in the change camp at the Knesset on Wednesday, they decided to back forming a commission of inquiry on the Meron tragedy but to hold off for now on the anti-Bibi bills in the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which has yet to be convened since Yesh Atid took it over.
When the Likud controlled the committee, Netanyahu’s party tried unsuccessfully to advance holding direct elections for prime minister. Ra’am ruled out that option this week, taking it off the table for good, because its MKs would be needed to give such a move a majority.
ONE MORE idea that will come to the forefront of the political debate once the fighting ends is the new president pardoning Netanyahu of the criminal charges against him on condition that he quit politics for good.
Presidential candidate Isaac Herzog raised that possibility in an interview with Channel 13 in 2017, leading to speculation that Netanyahu decided not to run a candidate in the presidential election for that reason.
But Herzog spoke long before Netanyahu was indicted. A source close to him said he is smart enough to stay far away from that political hot potato before the Knesset members will choose between him and Miriam Peretz for the presidency.
Peretz will also be pressured to address the issue, and has been advised against it. Chances are that when the MKs vote, they will have no idea how the candidates would handle the pardon issue.
So after a military operation in which Netanyahu’s timetable was influenced by the president of the United States, Netanyahu would go back to his fate being in the hands of the president of Israel.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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