2019–20 Israeli political crisis

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Israeli politics experienced a crisis and stalemate between April 2019 and April 2020. Three Knesset elections were held during the period without a clear victor or alliance. In the Israeli elections of April 2019, the two major parties, Blue and White and Likud, received an equal number of 35 seats. The Likud received a mandate from the president to attempt to form a government, but Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party failed to arrange a majority coalition of 61 seats. The Knesset was dissolved shortly thereafter.[1]

A second election was held in September 2019. This time, Blue and White overcame the Likud by a single seat. Nonetheless, the Likud received the mandate from the president after gaining the support of one Knesset member more than Blue and White. Netanyahu again failed to form a government,[2] but this time he could not dissolve the Knesset. Therefore, the mandate passed to Benny Gantz, who also failed to achieve a majority.[3] The President passed the mandate to the Knesset members for 21 days.[4] After no other candidate was offered, the Knesset was dissolved.

In March 2020, the third election was held. This time, Likud gained more seats than Blue and White, but Gantz achieved more recommendations from potential allies in the Knesset and received the mandate from the president. Gantz nevertheless was unable to unite enough allies into a coalition. His bloc was still agreed to replace the Speaker of the Knesset. Following this, the former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein refused to convene the plenary to vote on his replacement. His refusal created a constitutional crisis. The Movement for Quality Government in Israel appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered Edelstein to convene the Knesset. Following this Edelstein resigned.[5] Meanwhile, the Coronavirus pandemic in Israel worsened, which precipitated negotiations for a national emergency government. On March 26, Gantz was sworn in as the new Knesset Speaker, with the support of the Likud party,[6] causing a split in Blue and White. Finally, on 20 April 2020, the Likud and Blue and White agreed on an equal unity government, which includes a "rotation agreement" between Gantz and Netanyahu on the prime minister's chair.[7]

Following April 2019[edit source | edit]

Israeli government formation, April–May 2019

← 2015 15 April–30 May 2019 September 2019 →
  Benjamin Netanyahu 2018.jpg Benny Gantz 2019 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Benjamin Netanyahu Benny Gantz
Party Likud Blue and White
Electoral vote 65 45

Prime Minister before election

Benjamin Netanyahu

Outcome of Formation

No government formed and fresh elections called. Netanyahu remains PM in interim

The crisis began after the April 2019 election. The leader of the Blue and White faction, Benny Gantz, conceded the election, paving the way for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start talks with other parties to form a governing coalition.[8] On 15 and 16 April, leaders of all the parties who won seats in the Knesset met with President Reuven Rivlin to recommend a designated person to form a government. Netanyahu received recommendations from leaders representing 65 seats in the Knesset, whereas Gantz received recommendations from leaders representing only 45 seats in the Knesset. Leaders of the two Arab parties, representing 10 seats in the Knesset, declined to make any recommendation.[9][10]

Party Party Leader Seats Recommended Source
style="background:Template:Likud/meta/color;"| Likud Benjamin Netanyahu 35 Netanyahu [11]
style="background:Template:Blue and White/meta/color;"| Blue & White Benny Gantz 35 Gantz [11]
style="background:Template:Shas/meta/color;"| Shas Aryeh Deri 8 Netanyahu [11]
style="background:Template:United Torah Judaism/meta/color;"| UTJ Yaakov Litzman 8 Netanyahu [11]
style="background:Template:Hadash/meta/color;"| HadashTa'al Ayman Odeh 6 No-one [11]
style="background:Template:Israeli Labor Party/meta/color;"| Labor Avi Gabbay 6 Gantz [12]
style="background:Template:Yisrael Beiteinu/meta/color;"| Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman 5 Netanyahu [12]
style="background:Template:Union of Right-Wing Parties/meta/color;"| Union of the Right-Wing Parties Rafi Peretz 5 Netanyahu [12]
style="background:Template:Meretz/meta/color;"| Meretz Tamar Zandberg 4 Gantz [12]
style="background:Template:Kulanu/meta/color;"| Kulanu Moshe Kahlon 4 Netanyahu [12]
style="background:Template:United Arab List/meta/color| Ra'amBalad Mansour Abbas 4 No-one [13]

Based on the recommendations he received, Rivlin designated Netanyahu to form the next governing coalition.[14]

After a month of negotiations, Netanyahu's failure to form a government led to a 74 to 45 vote in the Knesset in favour of dispersing just after midnight on 29 May 2019. The new election was scheduled for 17 September 2019.[15]

Following September 2019[edit source | edit]

Israeli government formation, September 2019

← April–May 2019 22 September 2019
  Benjamin Netanyahu 2018.jpg Benny Gantz 2019 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Benjamin Netanyahu Benny Gantz
Party Likud Blue and White
Electoral vote 55 54

Prime Minister before election

Benjamin Netanyahu

Outcome of Formation

No government formed and fresh elections called. Netanyahu remains PM in interim

The do-over election did not provide a clear view of the next government, as none could be formed without at least one party or leader reneging on their campaign promises on who should be prime minister, or on the religious-secular issue. Some mentioned the possibility of a third election.[16][17] The day before the election, Benny Gantz called President Reuven Rivlin to try to avoid a third election at all costs, after Benjamin Netanyahu had refused to rule them out.[18]

On election night, Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu called for a "broad liberal government" that includes both Blue and White and Likud, and reiterated that he did not want to form any majority with the Arab parties. Benny Gantz claimed Prime ministership and Blue and White repeated that they would not form a government with Netanyahu, although they were open to one with Likud. Benyamin Netanyahu called for a "strong Zionist government".[19] On the left, Labor-Gesher stated it wanted to bring Arab parties "to the table", some of which are open to recommending Gantz.[19]

On 18 September, Netanyahu met with the emissaries of Yamina, Shas, and UTJ, to build a right-wing bloc to negotiate together.[20]

On 19 September, Rivlin, Netanyahu and Gantz met during a memorial ceremony for Shimon Peres. Netanyahu urged Gantz to speak with him about forming a unity government, for the sake of avoiding a third election.[19] Speaking for Blue and White, Gantz and Lapid both rejected Netanyahu's offer, saying Blue and White had won, and that Gantz had the right to lead a unity government committed to liberal policies on social issues, and thus refusing to discuss forming such a government with Netanyahu as long as right-wing religious parties were included. Lapid remarked that "if Netanyahu steps aside, we'll have a unity government".[21][22] Lieberman likewise accused Netanyahu of "deception" by offering a unity government, but conditioning it on the inclusion of religious parties.[23]

The same day, Gantz met with Horowitz. His aides said they expect a meeting with other party leaders, Odeh and Peretz. Labor-Gesher's six MKs could allow Netanyahu's bloc of 55 to find a majority. Likud thus reportedly offered Peretz the Finance portfolio, and a raise of the minimum wage, but the same sources say Peretz turned down the offer, which goes against a campaign vow. Netanyahu met with Degel HaTorah MKs, who, along with other Haredi parties (Shas, Agudat Yisrael), are starting to backtrack on their refusal not to govern with Lapid, in the case Lapid himself U-turns on Netanyahu. Lieberman was equivocal as to whether he would support Gantz, fearing to be sidelined from a unity government, or one that includes Haredim. According to Channel 13, Gantz reportedly promised to include Yisrael Beiteinu in any coalition.[24]

Joint List and Balad[edit source | edit]

On 21 September, the 13 MKs from the Joint List met together. 10 of them—with three Balad MKs dissenting—expressed their readiness to nominate Gantz if he meets "basic demands" on the peace process, the Arab community's interests, and the Jewish nation-state law.[25] President Rivlin met with party leaders on 22 September for the first day of talks.[26] On 22 September 2019, the Joint List leader Ayman Odeh declared that the Joint List had agreed, by internal majority voting, to endorse Benny Gantz for prime minister, marking the first time an Arab-Israeli party had endorsed a Zionist for prime minister.[27][28] Though initial reports suggested that the Joint List's recommendation gave Gantz a 57 to 55 edge, Rivlin revealed on 23 September that three Balad MKs—elected as part of the Joint List—demanded that their names be removed from a list of nominees of Gantz. After a day of confusion, Tibi and Odeh—leaders of the two pro-Gantz parties within Joint List—wrote a letter to Rivlin clarifying that the Joint List did not, in fact, have a unity agreement that legally binds individual parties to follow the party's nomination for the prime minister.[29] As such, Balad's three MKs were legally allowed to ignore the Joint List's recommendation. As a result, Netanyahu leads Gantz in tallied recommendations by a 55 to 54 margin, with eight delegates from Yisrael Beiteinu and three delegates from Balad yet to recommend either.[29]

Party Party Leader Seats Recommended Source
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Blue and White/meta/color;"| Blue & White Benny Gantz 33 Gantz [26]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Likud/meta/color;"| Likud Benjamin Netanyahu 32 Netanyahu [26]
rowspan=5 style="background:Template:Joint List/meta/color;"| Joint List Ayman Odeh 13 divided [30][31]
style="background:Template:Hadash/meta/color"| Hadash Ayman Odeh 5 Gantz [31]
style="background:Template:Ta'al/meta/color"| Ta'al Ahmad Tibi 2 Gantz [31]
style="background:Template:United Arab List/meta/color"| United Arab List Mansour Abbas 3 Gantz [31]
style="background:Template:Balad (political party)/meta/color| Balad Mtanes Shehadeh 3 No-one [30][32]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Shas/meta/color;"| Shas Aryeh Deri 9 Netanyahu [26]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Yisrael Beiteinu/meta/color;"| Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman 8 No-one [33]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:United Torah Judaism/meta/color;"| UTJ Yaakov Litzman 7 Netanyahu [31]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Yamina/meta/color;"| Yamina Ayelet Shaked 7 Netanyahu [31]
Labor-Gesher Amir Peretz 6 Gantz [34]
colspan=2 style="background:Template:Democratic Union (Israel)/meta/color;"| Democratic Union Nitzan Horowitz 5 Gantz [33]

Netanyahu and Gantz attempt to form governments[edit source | edit]

On 25 September, Rivlin selected Netanyahu to attempt to form the thirty-fifth government of Israel,[35] but with the stipulation that if the attempt fails, Rivlin retains the mandate to nominate another candidate.[36]

New members of Knesset were sworn in on 3 October 2019.[37] The same day, talks between Netanyahu and Lieberman ended with no breakthrough.[38] Moments after it was announced that Netanyahu was aiming to demonstrate Likud party unity with a leadership contest, the Israeli Prime Minister received a challenge from Gideon Sa'ar, who tersely tweeted, "I'm ready", should the Prime Minister agree to hold a leadership election.[39][40] On 4 October, Netanyahu decided against holding a leadership election.[41]

On 22 October, Netanyahu informed President Rivlin that he was unable to form a government.[2][42] On 23 October, President Rivlin gave the mandate of forming a government to Gantz.[43]

Gantz was then given 28 days to form a coalition to lead the government,[3] but was unable and returned the mandate on 21 November.[44] Following this, a period of 21 days began in which any Knesset member can lead the government if they submit 61 signatures to the president.[44][45] Since no MK was able to form a government by 11 December, the Knesset again voted to dissolve itself, and new elections will be held on 2 March 2020.[46]

Following March 2020[edit source | edit]

Israeli government formation, March–April 2020

← September 2019 March-April 2020
  Benny Gantz 2019 (cropped).jpg Benjamin Netanyahu 2018.jpg
Nominee Benny Gantz Benjamin Netanyahu
Party Blue and White Likud
Electoral vote 61 58

Prime Minister before election

Benjamin Netanyahu

Outcome of Formation


On 8 March 2020, Lieberman gave Gantz his backing to form a new government.[47] The next day, the Joint List agreed to work with Gantz and Lieberman to oust Netanyahu.[48] Orly Levy announced on 10 March that she would not support a minority government and had left the Labor–Gesher–Meretz alliance. Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel had previously stated that they would not support a government that relied on the Joint List's support.[49] An aide to Gantz also stated that he plans to form a government by 23 March.[50] Lieberman and Labor party leader Amir Peretz also reaffirmed on 11 March that an alliance with the Joint List would not change their party's position on forming a political alliance with Gantz.[51] The elected MKs were sworn in on 16 March 2020.[52] On March 15, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced that he had asked Gantz to form the new government after Gantz received support from 61 of the 120 MKs.[53]

Prior to the election, Gantz vowed to form a government that would not include Netanyahu.[54] However, after the election and with the outbreak of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic, Gantz reversed his stance and announced he was willing to support an emergency coalition with Netanyahu.[55] On 21 March, Netanyahu announced negotiations were completed for a national unity government with a rotating prime ministership where Netanyahu served first, to later be replaced by Gantz, though Gantz denied this and claimed negotiations were still ongoing.[56]

COVID-19[edit source | edit]

For further information, see COVID-19 pandemic in Israel

Two Israeli cruise ship passengers were infected with COVID-19 in February 2020 and arrived in Israel that month. Other victims did the same and were not put into immediate quarantine. This led to a rapid spread of the virus, causing a national emergency.[citation needed]

Government formation[edit source | edit]

For further information, see Thirty-fifth government of Israel

The Likud and Blue and White agreed on an equal unity government on 20 April 2020, which includes a "rotation agreement" between Gantz and Netanyahu of the premiership.[57]

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. Gil Hoffman; Lahav Harkov (30 May 2019). "Israel goes back to elections as Netanyahu fails to form coalition". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Holmes, Oliver (21 October 2019). "Benjamin Netanyahu tells Israeli president he cannot form government" – via www.theguardian.com.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lis, Jonathan (22 October 2019). "Israeli President to Task Gantz With Forming Government on Wednesday". Haaretz.
  4. "Rivlin hands mandate to form government to Knesset, slams 'miserable political situation'". ynet. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  5. Wootliff, Raoul. "In bombshell, Yuli Edelstein resigns to avoid calling vote on new speaker". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  6. Wootliff, Raoul. "Elected Knesset speaker by right wing, Gantz heads for government with Netanyahu". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  7. Levinson, Chaim (20 April 2020). "Netanyahu, Gantz Sign Coalition Deal to Form Government". Haaretz.
  8. Liebermann, Oren (10 April 2019). "Netanyahu set for fifth term as Israel's leader as rival concedes defeat". CNN. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  9. "Netanyahu secures majority backing after right-wing parties recommend him as PM". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  10. Lis, Jonathan (16 April 2019). "Netanyahu Set to Form Next Government After Most Parties Recommend Him to President". Haaretz. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 "החרדים המליצו על נתניהו, אשכנזי: "לא ניכנס לממשלת אחדות"". www.maariv.co.il. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "נתניהו השיג 65 ממליצים להרכבת הממשלה". ynet (in Hebrew). 16 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  13. "Phase 2 Results: Netanyahu 65, Gantz 45, Neither 10". knessetjeremy.com. 16 April 2019. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  14. "President officially taps Netanyahu to form next government". The Times of Israel. 17 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  15. "Israel goes back to elections as Netanyahu fails to form coalition". The Jerusalem Post. 29 May 2019.
  16. Yoni Kempinski (17 September 2019). "Likud MK: There's always a possibility for a third election". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  17. Noa Landau (18 September 2019). "Real voter fraud will be a third Israel election. We shouldn't let it happen". Haaretz. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  18. Staff writer (19 September 2019). "Gantz urges Rivlin to help ensure Israel does not go to third election". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Israel Election Results: Netanyahu Says No Choice but to Form Broad Unity Government". Haaretz. 19 September 2019.
  20. "Netanyahu's new math: When 56 is worth more than 60". The Jerusalem Post. 19 September 2019.
  21. "Gantz says he should lead unity government, rejects coalition led by right". The Times of Israel. 19 September 2019.
  22. Felicia Schwartz; Dov Lieber (19 September 2019). "Gantz Declares Win, Rejects Netanyahu's Call for Negotiations". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  23. Michael Bachner (19 September 2019). "Liberman said to tell aides he intends to recommend Gantz for prime minister". The Times of Israel.
  24. "Parties jostle for position, hold talks in bid to break coalition impasse". The Times of Israel. 20 September 2019.
  25. "Joint List of Arab parties seen leaning toward recommending Gantz for PM". The Times of Israel. 21 September 2019.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 "LIVEBLOG: Gantz leads in votes for next Israeli PM after first day of talks". i24 News. 22 September 2019. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  27. Gil Hoffman; Lahav Harkov (22 September 2019). "Joint List endorses Gantz without Balad, giving Netanyahu majority". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  28. Pfeffer, Anshel (19 March 2020). "For the First Time Ever, Israeli Democracy Has Been Shut Down". Haaretz.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Holmes, Oliver (23 September 2019). "Boost for Netanyahu as three Arab politicians refuse to back rival". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Staff writer (26 September 2019). "Joint List leader says Gantz asked party to reduce support in tactical move". The Times of Israel.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 "Netanyahu expected to have first crack at forming Israeli government". i24 News. 24 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  32. "Israel election results: Three Arab lawmakers refuse to endorse Gantz; Netanyahu leads with 55 backers". Haaretz. 23 September 2019. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Balad votes won't count for Gantz, putting Netanyahu in lead". The Jerusalem Post. 24 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  34. "LIVEBLOG: Netanyahu, Gantz to meet Israeli president again on Wednesday". i24 News. 23 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  35. "Israel elections: President Rivlin to tap incumbent Netanyahu to form govt". i24 News. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  36. Raoul Wootliff (25 September 2019). "Back to square one: New elections loom after Rivlin's unity bid falls short". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  37. Jonathan Lis (3 October 2019). "Riffing on Elvis, Netanyahu warns of 'heavy price' if no unity government". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  38. Lis, Jonathan (3 October 2019). "Israel Election Results: 'No Breakthrough' in Netanyahu-Lieberman Meeting to End Political Deadlock Netanyahu". Haaretz. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  39. Lis, Jonathan (3 October 2019). "Israel Election Results: Netanyahu Considers Snap Primary to Dispel 'Rebellion Illusion'; Likud Rival: I'm Ready". Haaretz. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  40. Hoffman, Gil (3 October 2019). "Gideon Sa'ar Challenges Netanyahu For Likud Leadersship". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  41. Staff writer (4 October 2019). "Abandoning leadership primary, Likud to confirm Netanyahu as choice for PM". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  42. Staff writer (21 October 2019). "Netanyahu tells president he can't form government; now it's Gantz's turn to try". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  43. Raoul Wootliff (23 October 2019). "Charged with forming coalition, Gantz asks Netanyahu to join, vows to heal rifts". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Gil Hoffman (21 November 2019). "Rivlin hands over mandate, begs MKs to prevent third election". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  45. Staff writer (15 November 2019). "5 days before deadline, Gantz's chances of forming coalition seen as fading away". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  46. Staff writer (11 December 2019). "Israel calls another election for March, the third in a year". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  47. Aaron Rabinowitz; Haaretz (8 March 2020). "Gantz Agrees to Lieberman's Terms for Entering Government". Haaretz.
  48. "Israel's Gantz woos Joint List after reaching agreement with Lieberman". Middle East Eye. 9 March 2020. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  49. Gil Hoffman (10 March 2020). "Orly Levy's flipflop kills minority government". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  50. "Gantz said planning to put together minority government by March 23". Times of Israel. 10 March 2020. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  51. "Gantz, Peretz press ahead with center-left coalition bid despite setbacks". The Times of Israel. 11 March 2020. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  52. Gil Hoffman (16 March 2020). "MKs sworn in to Knesset in ceremony adhering to coronavirus rules". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  53. Raoul Wootliff; Staff writer (15 March 2020). "Rivlin to task Gantz with forming government after he receives 61 endorsements". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  54. Press, Associated (16 February 2020). "Israel's Gantz vows to form government without Netanyahu". POLITICO. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  55. Wootliff, Raoul (22 March 2020). "Gantz: Unity government needed now, I'm waiting for Netanyahu to okay talks". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  56. Gil Hoffman (22 March 2020). "Netanyahu says unity deal with Blue and White reached". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  57. Gil Hoffman (21 April 2020). "The deal is done: Netanyahu, Gantz ink coalition pact". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 22 April 2020.

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