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Netanyahu and the ‘art of the possible’

What once seemed his best option may, in fact, be his worst.

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Gili Yaari and Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Gili Yaari and Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the German statesman credited with the unification of Germany (1871) and who served as its first Chancellor until 1890, famously defined “politics” as “the art of the possible.

This is certainly true in the dizzyingly volatile kaleidoscope realities of Israeli politics.

Only few days ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was facing the grim prospect of being dispatched to the Opposition and the looming specter of a minority government, led by his then-major rival, Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, and totally dependent on the dominantly anti-Zionist Joint Arab List.

However, the dramatic events at the end of last month when Gantz, together with a little more than half the Knesset members of the Blue and White faction, unexpectedly decided to join Netanyahu in an emergency coalition, radically changed the political landscape—and with it, the possibilities open to Netanyahu.

After all, the prime minister has now effectively neutralized his two major political adversaries, Gantz and Yair Lapid—paradoxically because the former opted to join him and because the latter opted not to—leaving each with an emasculated political following, as well as a multitude of disappointed and embittered erstwhile supporters. Moreover, these developments left his third, implacable foe, the recalcitrant Avigdor Lieberman, essentially irrelevant, having been deprived of his previous extortionary power.

Now, with new surveys showing a Netanyahu-led Likud surging, outstripping his nearest rivals by a staggering margin of more than 20 mandates, what once seemed his best option—partnering with Gantz—may, in fact, be his worst.

Some emerging alternatives …

Indeed, given Gantz’s reluctance to seize the moment provided by the U.S. Mideast peace plan for extending Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and portions of Judea and Samaria, and the number of important portfolios necessary to cede to him to entice him into joint coalition, other options may be far more attractive.

These might include setting up a narrow, right-wing coalition with former right-of-center Blue and White Knesset members Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, in addition to Oly Levy, who broke away from the left-wing Labor-Meretz alliance, giving it a 61 seat majority in the Knesset.

However, if Netanyahu should be loath to entrust his political fate to vagaries of recent rivals, another possibility would be (despite pubic fatigue) going for a fourth election—with polls predicting a clear victory for a Netanyahu-led Likud—and his political rivals, divided, disheartened, in disarray and considerably weakened.

After all, politics is the art of the possible.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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