The former Israeli prime minister, and present leader of the country’s largest opposition party, is currently on trial for three charges of corruption, which have dogged him for the past five years. According to recent reports, his lawyers are negotiating a possible plea bargain, which would allow him to avoid jail time, but ban him from politics for seven years. While Shany Mor believes it unlikely that the sides will reach agreement, he nonetheless considers possible ramifications:
Israel’s current governing coalition . . . is a disparate mix of two right-wing parties, two centrist parties, two left-wing parties, and one Islamist party. This unlikely grouping joined forces in 2021 out of a desire to end Netanyahu’s twelve-year reign. Having done so, the coalition now holds together thanks only to a self-enforcing equilibrium. The coalition’s left-leaning elements are roughly equal in size to the right-leaning ones, and both sides have respected each other’s political red lines. Maintaining this arrangement has been easy because the only realistic alternative—partnering with Netanyahu—is unacceptable to all.
Removing Netanyahu from the political scene would end a key rift in Israeli politics. In four consecutive elections, roughly half the voters expressed a desire to see him remain in power, and roughly half the opposite. With the polarizing Netanyahu out of the picture, Israel’s conservative parties, which enjoy an enormous majority in the Knesset but have failed to form a coalition since 2015 because some factions refuse to work with Netanyahu, could partner together once more.
To be sure, Netanyahu’s departure might not necessarily trigger an immediate coalition collapse in favor of a new right-wing government. There is still deep animosity between the rightists who helped depose Netanyahu and those who remained loyal to him.
But Netanyahu’s absence would at least change the bargaining power of the various factions within the current governing coalition. The left-wing coalition partners would still have no leverage to forge a coalition of their own, and the conservative factions could demand a higher price for allowing them to remain in the government.