Yair Lapid will not be able to form a viable and sustainable government. After returning his mandate to President Rivlin, the mandate will go to the Knesset and any member that could gather the support of 61 votes will become the next Prime Minister and avoid a 5th round of elections.
The parliamentary system of governance has been lately derailed by small parties led by politicians with Napoleonic dreams of being Prime Minister with a mere 6-7 mandates. “Rotations” in the Prime Minister post make sense only when there are in a coalition two numerically equivalent large parties, which is not the case here. There is only a clear large homogeneous party, the Likud with 30 mandates, around which a coalition could coalesce. The Prime Minister should be a member of the majority party Likud.
Ideologically and politically, a stable majority coalition could be established in a matter of days based on the Likud (30), the religious block of Shas (9) and UTJ (7), Blue & White (8), Yamina (7) and the Arab party Ra’am (4), for a total of 65 Knesset members.
The participation of the Labor party (7) in this coalition should be encouraged. Labor could concentrate its demands to join the coalition on realistic achievable goals that reflect its unique ideological platform within this coalition, like in the areas of mending the relations with the Israeli Arabs, get enhanced State support for mixed Arab-Jewish secular activities in the cultural arena and sports, support the gradual integration of the Haredi community into the Israeli society by promoting women equality and opening more opportunities for Haredi women to education leading to highly sought jobs in technical fields like computers and science (let the Haredi men persevere full-time in the study of the myriads of Halakhic laws, if they so wish, while their women become the bread givers in their families: the evolution in the Haredi community and its integration in the Israeli society has to begin from somewhere, and the women are a good place to start with).
Get support for civil unions (no couple should be forced to fly to Cyprus to get married and, if there is no other way, get the State to refund the couple the cost of the flights to Cyprus and a 1-night hotel stay there to get married, a simple low-budget temporary solution to a highly emotional subject). Get State support for basic intercity public transportation during Shabbat to help the low-income population, who do not own cars, visit their families in other cities or, simply, to tour and enjoy the country’s natural and historic sites and its spectacular views. And, although a 2-state initiative is not in the offing, as a partner in the coalition Labor could neutralize provocative measures in the West Bank and Jerusalem, inconsistent with a future coexistence with the Palestinians in this land, building bridges with other partners within the coalition.
There is no one better than Labor to carry the flag with force and ideological conviction in all the above issues. The participation of the Labor party in the coalition will also give this government a comfortable basis of 72 seats in the Knesset. This will eliminate extreme and unreasonable demands from the coalition by any small party.
A member of the Likud party should stand at the top of this coalition as Prime Minister. Two well-qualified candidates come to my mind: Yuval Steinitz and Yuli Edelstein.
Yuval Steinitz has impeccable credentials and experience for the post of Prime Minister. He has a PhD in Philosophy, was injured while serving in the Israel Defense Forces during one of Lebanon’s wars and for a while was a Peace Now activist, being injured again when a right-wing extremist hurled a hand-grenade into a crowd during one of the Peace Now demonstrations. He has served during the last twelve years in several important ministerial posts giving him a unique experience and perspective: Minister of Finance (2009-2013), Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs (2013-2015) and Minister of Energy and Water Resources (2015-present).
Yuli Edelstein served as Knesset Speaker from 2013 to 2020 and was well respected in this position by the Israeli public: even a Labor Knesset member, Omer Bar-Lev, proposed him for the job of Prime Minister after the indecisive second election round in 2019. He served in several ministerial posts since 1996. He has lately served as Health Minister during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and the return of Israel to normal life after a successful vaccination drive of the whole Israeli population. He has shown his strength of character and provided a personal example during his days as prominent refusenik in the Soviet Russia, spending several years in prison in Russia’s Siberia.
What about Netanyahu?
Netanyahu deserves a lot of criticism in the difficult battle for the support of the public opinion in the US and in some friendly Western European countries, for his lackluster embrace of a 2-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians. One might convince quite easily an unbiased Western observer that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and undemocratic and even shares a lot of blame for the failure of any past attempts to reach a 2-state solution with the Israelis. However, no one could convince this observer that the Palestinians do not have inherent rights to self-determination (if they respect the rights of the Jews).
As difficult and far away in the horizon it may be – a 2-state solution that takes into account the security needs of Israel and the historic links of the Jewish people to the land of Israel from the river to the sea, is possible and must be supported by every Israeli government. Having a clear long-term vision of a 2-state resolution of the conflict will minimize the occurrence of policy missteps in the West Bank and Jerusalem in the short-term. And when the time comes, its implementation should proceed with extreme caution, given the disastrous antecedent of the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza in 2005 and the endemic instability of all the neighboring Arab states’ regimes, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. President Biden got it right when he said last week: “Let us get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally that they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace”. This is the true root of the problem and not the “occupation”, which for a common person began in 1967 and for the anti-Semites disguised as anti-Zionists began in 1948 (for them, only the Jews do not have the right to self-determination)
This coalition will not coalesce around Netanyahu, irrespective of how one judges Netanyahu as a statesman: his trial – which may last several years – will be a significant distraction and is a very contentious and dividing issue. Many believe that it is a just trial against a corrupt politician. Many others believe it is a political maneuver to get rid of a popular leader by means other than the ballot box (as was the case with the popular Brazilian president Lula da Silva, who spent more than two years in jail for [seemingly fabricated] corruption charges. Lula’s case was finally dismissed by the Supreme Court of Brazil last March: he was set free and is running now for a 3rd presidential term). In any case, most will agree that Netanyahu’s trial has become a big obstacle to the formation of a good and stable government and is causing great harm to Israel.
An honorable path should be provided for Netanyahu to step aside. As a practical (but also quite principled) way out, I propose the following: A new law should be presented and approved with no delay by the Knesset.
The new law regards the rights of a Prime Minister, during and after serving in office, to a proper defense against any allegations of crimes he/she allegedly committed while she/he served as Prime Minister. The law will simply state that the State should provide monetary assistance to the Prime Minister (or former Prime Minister) for an appropriate defense of his/her case, commensurate with the resources allocated by the State to the State prosecution. Furthermore, the law will reaffirm that he/she is considered explicitly innocent, with all the rights pertaining to innocent people, until proven guilty by the Court.
This law will provide a natural extension to the right of any individual citizen to a fair defense against excesses of an overzealous prosecution, specially the one that is funded by the unlimited resources of the State.
This law will also apply to Benjamin Netanyahu.