A “unity” government in Israel? Easier said than done

The near dead heat in Israel’s election militates strongly in favor of a “unity government” in which power is shared between the center-right Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu and the center-left Blue and White party of Benny Gantz. Earlier this week, Netanyahu reportedly wasn’t interested in such a government. However, with the reality of the election results now sinking in, the prime minister has changed his tune.

The Jerusalem Post reports that during a memorial service for Simon Peres, Netanyahu said: “Let’s cooperate like Peres and [former prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir.” Peres and Shamir agreed to a rotate as prime minister after the 1984 election.

At the same service, Peres, Netanyahu and Gantz were seen shaking hands.

It’s easier, though, to talk up the idea of a unity government than to implement one. The government Netanyahu contemplates would include Likud’s Orthodox religious partner parties. However, the Israeli public apparently strongly opposes the inclusion of these parties. Even a majority of Likud voters don’t seem to want their inclusion.

For his part, Gantz has rejected the idea of a coalition that includes the Orthodox parties. But without the support of these parties, Netanyahu may not be in a position to demand a place in a unity government.

At the same time, it’s not clear that Blue and White and its allies did well enough to form a government that excludes Likud. As in April of this year, Gantz seems to be better at declaring victory than achieving it.

There’s an additional complication. Throughout the campaign, Blue and White’s leaders said they would not sit in a government with Netanyahu as long as the specter of his indictment on corruption charges remains. Netanyahu is set for a pre-indictment hearing with Israel’s attorney general in two weeks.

It’s the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who will decide which party leader gets the first crack at forming a government. Rivlin, like most Israelis, wants a unity government. During the service for Peres, he lauded Netanyahu’s call for one:

I hear, loud and clear, the voices calling for a broad and stable national unity government, and I congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, on joining that call this morning. The responsibility for making it happen falls to you elected officials, especially the leaders of the major parties. The citizens of Israel have spoken.

They have. However, the path to the “broad and stable national unity government” Rivlin spoke of is not clear. Thus, although Rivlin has vowed to “do everything I can to prevent another general election,” it’s possible that one will be required.