Many Christians who care about Israel are perplexed about our almost year-long crisis in which we have lacked a duly elected, functioning government. This is understandable. The political situation is complex and unprecedented. In this article we hope to clarify some of the main issues and suggest directions for prayer. (If you wish to skip the detailed explanation, please scroll down to the last section, “How shall we pray?”)
Believers both within and outside of Israel have different ideas as to who should be Israel’s next prime minister and which parties should have voice in the next government. Where there is little difference of opinion is regarding the dangers of Israel continuing without a government coalition able to make important decisions, including those pertaining to national security. How will this quandary be resolved, and what are some of the considerations behind the stalemate?
How things now stand
In Israel’s historic repeat election last month, the Blue and White Party (led by Benjamin Gantz) won 33 parliamentary seats while Likud (Netanyahu) won 32. Gantz’s allies are mostly on the left, and leave him short of the 61 minimum seats needed to form a government. Netanyahu’s allies on the right, which include the ultra-Orthodox religious parties, bring him to 55 seats.
Technically, the Arab parties endorse Gantz as prime minister. Realistically, they have never and likely would not now serve as part of any governing coalition of Israel. They merely want Netanyahu gone. So, when the dust settles, both Gantz and Netanyahu fall short of the 61 parliamentary seats needed to form a government.
Israel Beitaynu (Avigdor Liberman), a former ally of Netanyahu, could put Netanyahu over the top with its 8 seats, but has promised it will not join a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties. For this reason, some blame Liberman for the present stalemate. But the situation is complex; Liberman has some good reasons for withstanding these parties.
In the process of forming a government, the President of Israel plays a key role. President Rivlin has urged that a so-called unity government be formed. In it Likud and Blue and White would share leadership. After the second election, he essentially locked Netanyahu and Gantz in a room together for a few hours to hammer out a unity solution. They could not.
Rivlin then mandated Netanyahu with forming a government. After a month of failed attempts, Netanyahu reported he could not form a coalition. Unable to strike an arrangement with the only men who could provide the seats he needed, Gantz and Liberman, he returned the mandate to Rivlin.
Two days later Rivlin charged Gantz with the mandate to form a government by November 20. But this he cannot do it with Liberman alone. Barring a miracle, Gantz must secure an agreement with Netanyahu because he needs Likud’s seats. Gantz does not, however, want the ultra-Orthodox in his coalition.
If Gantz fails to construct a government, a period of 21 days begins during which any member of the parliament can attempt to form a coalition. If no member succeeds, which would likely be the case, we will head towards a third round of elections. This is something nobody wants. Recent polls indicate that if another election were held, another stalemate would result.
What are some behind the scenes considerations?
- First, Netanyahu does not want to go to jail. Israeli Attorney General Mandleblit is almost certain to reveal his decision to indict Netanyahu sometime in the next month. The timing is secret, but critically intertwined with coalition negotiations. Gantz has promised the public he will not form a government with someone under indictment, i.e. Netanyahu. If Netanyahu is not indicted, Gantz’s principal stated reason for not working alongside Netanyahu vanishes. If the PM is indicted and goes to trial, he risks going to jail. If he is indicted and found innocent, his political career still may be over. Israeli law requires all government ministers and parliament members to step down once indicted, except for the prime minister. So Netanyahu would have to remain prime minister in order to remain in the government at all. It seems Netanyahu’s best options to avoid jail include:
- Convincing the Attorney General to drop the indictment and charges. This is unlikely.
- Forming a unity government with Gantz where he is named prime minister on a rotating basis, and serves as prime minister until he is either not indicted (unlikely) or tried and acquitted (if he is acquitted, that is). There probably is not time for the formation of a unity government before AG Mandleblit’s decision. So this option seems unlikely.
- Forming a unity government where Netanyahu is named prime minister on a rotating basis, but takes a leave of absence from that position if indicted. But time is not on his side for this option, either.
- Forming a unity government where he is not named prime minister, but where a deal is struck getting him an immunity agreement that prevents trial and/or prison. This would be fraught with legal complications and may or may not succeed.
- Recently, Netanyahu moved to consolidate his support by having his allies sign a document whereby the entire ultra-Orthodox block would act as a single agent. If the agreement is honored, it would mean Likud could not be part of any government without the ultra-Orthodox. But Gantz, as well as Liberman, have promised voters they will not serve alongside the ultra-Orthodox. So, either both Gantz and Liberman back peddle on the platform on which they ran for office, or Netanyahu breaks his recent pledge to the ultra-Orthodox to form a unity government. This is a big sticking point for all involved. Gantz and Liberman have not blinked. They have time on their side. Netanyahu does not.
- Or, does he? Without a government forming, Netanyahu continues to serve as our prime minister, since he was prime minister when a government last existed in December, 2018. He could benefit by further delay in the formation of a government in that a sitting prime minister need not step down from office if indicted. He could conceivably stall until an indictment is issued. The problem is that Netanyahu’s support has gone down in the last two elections. If he is indicted it will drop much further. The public might not stand for it.
- Unless, there is a war. Nothing obscures a leader’s domestic issues more than war, and Israel is seemingly always on the brink of one. It would be hard to remove a prime minister during a war, particularly one who also serves, as Netanyahu currently does, as defense minister. In the past two months, war clouds with Iran have drawn ominously near. Syria has been further destabilized by American troop withdrawal. The IDF warned last week that all our borders are at risk. Although war often seems imminent, it feels more imminently imminent now than in recent years.
- Gantz has consistently and repeatedly stated that he will not partner with a prime minister facing indictment, i.e. Netanyahu. He has conceded willingness to serve in a unity government with Likud, but not with Netanyahu or his ultra-Orthodox allies. As indicated earlier, it is not impossible that Netanyahu step aside to preserve his freedom through some sort of deal and renege on the agreement with his extreme right wing allies. Meanwhile, there have been discussions within Likud about dropping Netanyahu as its leader. But Netanyahu rules the party with an iron fist, so this scenario is unlikely, barring indictment and conviction.
- Discussions are now underway between Blue and White and Likud as to what a power sharing arrangement might look like, especially if Netanyahu is indicted. Rumors are that Netanyahu would serve as PM first, then go on a temporary leave if indicted, during which time Gantz would serve as PM. After that, Netanyahu would return if he is found not guilty. This may be a way for Gantz to keep from betraying his campaign promises, while still moving forward with the formation of a coalition.
- Israel is about more than prophecy, land and security. Many believers support Netanyahu because of his policy not to relinquish biblical land.But Gantz and his party also oppose giving away biblical land. Netanyahu has been an extremely gifted leader. He is unparalleled in foreign diplomacy. But on the home front, his government has not effectively addressed certain critical and mounting social and economic problems. These include a shrinking middle class, increasing poverty, lack of affordable urban housing, freedoms for religious minorities including Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs, and unfunded budgets.
How will our political situation be resolved?
We do not believe Netanyahu or Gantz will be able to form a coalition without the other’s party. Previously I (Kerry) did not believe Gantz would capitulate and serve alongside Netanyahu. Now I am not certain. I do not think anyone wants a third round of elections in less than a year.
I believe the crisis will likely be resolved through Gantz and Netanyahu striking a deal that allows Netanyahu to save face by remaining PM until he is indicted, and then step aside. I believe it might include an arrangement (which would certainly be legally challenged) whereby Netanyahu would avoid prison if convicted, and whereby he might be allowed back in government as PM if he is acquitted. This would require a great deal of trust between the parties, which is not something that has been in evidence. Gantz would bank on Netanyahu’s indictment and conviction; and Netanyahu, on his acquittal. Liberman would be part of this government, but the ultra-Orthodox either would not at all, or would have very limited influence. I believe Netanyahu’s days as so called “King Bibi” are behind him. He has served long, and in many ways, extremely well. It may be time he pass the baton (or scepter) to new leaders God will raise up.
How shall we pray?
It is always best to pray God’s Word, especially that His will be done to align our government with His will in heaven. In the past we have shared numerous Scriptures related to governmental intercession. Some specific points this month would include the following.
- In response to the grievous political mud slinging of the past year, please pray that our leaders be given the grace of humility. James 4:10 says if we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up. Pray that those leaders the Lord wants lifted up will humble themselves by His grace. Pray too for their protection.
- In complex negotiations, pray for righteousness and justice to form the foundation of our next government, as these are the foundation of God’s Throne. (Psalm 89:14, 94:20)
- Pray that anti-Messiah forces driving ultra-Orthodox religious parties be shaken from the next government, that these parties either repent of their anti-Messiah embrace and influence or be removed, and our nation be opened to the Good News of salvation. (Psalm 24:7-10)
- Pray that lies against Netanyahu be exposed and truth revealed in the indictment investigation. Pray that justice results for him and for Israel. (Psalm 120:2)
- Pray that President Rivlin receive divine wisdom to navigate these complex, uncharted political waters. Pray God’s covering over him from witchcraft and global influences that do not have Israel’s best interests at heart. (Psalm 111:10, 33:10-12)
- Pray for our protection from foreign enemies, namely Iran, who would take advantage of our political instability. Prayerfully proclaim that God’s covenant promises for Israel’s restoration will not be upended by His enemies. (Isaiah 8:10)
In closing, we have prayed for many years for a divine shaking of our government to loosen the anti-Messiah strongholds affecting our leaders. So we view the current situation, in large part, from the perspective of Haggai 2:6-7 and Hebrews 12:26-28. We are praying that what cannot be shaken, namely that which reflects the unshakeable kingdom of God, result and remain.
Despite what takes place, the kingdoms of this earth belong to God, who has given them over to Messiah. The day is coming when our government will rest fully on His magnificent shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6) This article is entitled, “Who Will Govern Israel?” We are encouraged to know the final answer.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations [including Israel], and the Desired [One] of all nations will come…'” (Haggai 2:6-7)
“…He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. … We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Hebrews 12:26-28)