In the photograph imposed on them by Israeli President Rouven Rivlin in his residence on the evening of Monday, 23 September, outgoing Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, shake hands in a distant way. without force. They do not look at each other. What do they have to say for the moment?
By bringing them together, the president completed the first consultations held on Sunday with the future parliamentarians, newly elected on 17 September. Mr. Rivlin must designate who among them is most likely to form a coalition government. He will see the two party leaders again on Wednesday, and may only decide on October 2 after the Jewish New Year holidays.
The president, heir to the Likud before Mr. Netanyahu – the two men have only contempt for each other – seeks to break a deadlock: no majority is required. He therefore uses his mandate to advocate for a unity government. "A government united between equals is possible. He can and must express the diversity of the voices of society ", he recalled Monday, during a one-hour meeting after which the two candidates demanded from their lieutenants that they cancel any interview with the press on Tuesday morning.
Both also plead for a unity government, but which one? The ideas they make are mutually exclusive. Mr. Gantz, who came first in the legislative elections (33 seats out of 120), had promised, in campaign, not to sit alongside Mr. Netanyahu, if he ended up being charged with corruption. The Attorney General of the country will hear it in early October and must announce its decision before the end of the year. "This is not the time for boycotts," reminded Mr. Rivlin on Monday.
Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is on the block with his ultraorthodox allies and the messianic right (55 seats in total). He told them Monday night that he was negotiating on their behalf. "It's like a bride who wants to bring her brother, cousin, neighbor and rabbi to the consummation of marriage. It will not work "Tuesday morning Nahum Barnea, the analyst of the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Mr. Netanyahu lets the threat of a third vote hover, after the failure of the April vote, which had already achieved no majority. It saves time. The Prime Minister would be happy to let Mr. Gantz try first to form a coalition, feeling confident that he will fail at the end of the twenty-eight days that will be allocated to him. He holds the Likud tight around him and tries to coax his former ally, Avidgor Lieberman (8 seats).
This secular nationalist refused Sunday to recommend a name to the president. He is marginalized by encircling his wish for a unity government that would exclude the outgoing prime minister as well as ultra-orthodox and Arab parties. Some are "Rivals", the others 'Enemies'he decided.
Mr. Gantz met him Monday, without saying anything about it. He is in no hurry either to form a government, preferring to let Mr. Netanyahu fail. It's a risky bet. Bleu Blanc could also propose a rotating government to Mr. Netanyahu, who would take the lead only after Mr. Gantz. This would leave him the opportunity to calmly face justice. If "Bibi" refused, he would be angered by voters when he returned to the polls in 2020.
Finally, it remains for Mr. Gantz to form a minority government with the two left-wing parties (44 seats in total), by getting from Mr. Lieberman and the Arab parties (13 seats) that they do not vote against them in the Knesset for at least a few months.
A background wave
Since Sunday, Arab parties, eternal marginalized Israeli politics, have emerged alone with a promise that engages society as a whole and the future of the country. They courageously recommended to the President to appoint Mr. Gantz. It supports a movement, Bleu Blanc, led by three generals and whose leader led two major operations in Gaza, in 2012 and 2014, on which charges of war crimes are pending.
The leader of their united list, Ayman Odeh, quoted the Bible to summarize this historic moment: "The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone" (Psalms 117: 22) Since 2015, Mr. Odeh has consistently defended equal rights for Israel's Arabs, as much, if not more, than the Palestinian cause. It is carried by a wave of substance: according to a recent study by the Israel Institute for Democracy, 76% of Arabs in the country want to see their representatives enter the government. Half of the Jewish voters would support it, even if the main Israeli parties still oppose it.
Blue White himself had sour words at the announcement of the Arab support. Its leaders did not hide their relief, Monday morning, when the small nationalist party Balad (3 seats) broke the Arab unity, finally choosing not to recommend Mr. Gantz. This withdrawal leaves the possible coalition of the general less votes than that of Mr. Netanyahu – which could force "Bibi" to have to attempt, first, the perilous exercise of the search for a majority.