A Vaccine for Israel’s Political Paralysis?
The coronavirus pandemic has emerged as a vaccine to the political paralysis in Israel. Even if the vaccine has a temporary effect, and holds for just one season, it represents a major breakthrough, nonetheless.
There are three primary beneficiaries of the emergency government: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz, and, most importantly, the State of Israel.
However one looks at the agreements undergirding the new government, it is impossible to avoid the reality that a failure to create an emergency coalition during these difficult days would have been beyond irresponsible.
As the pandemic rages throughout the world, paralyzing economies and routine life as it does so, in Israel and in so many other countries, the disease and its domino effects have impacted all members of society. Adding to these difficulties during such a crisis and dragging the country to a fourth round of elections would only extract a further toll from Israeli citizens. In fact, had such a scenario materialized, it could have resulted in mass demonstrations calling for the ouster of all Knesset members.
Instead, the nation’s critical needs led to the formation of a new government, a process that was difficult for both Likud and Blue and White to complete. Party sources from each side say they feel they were shortchanged by the agreement. Each side is convinced that it compromised more than the other. In actuality, Netanyahu and Gantz both gained tremendously from this maneuver.
Netanyahu was able to safeguard his position, and can now begin his trial as prime minister, which places him in a comparatively-advantageous position compared to one in which he would have entered the legal process as a former prime minister.
Gantz, for his part, scored a double win. He is on course to becoming prime minister relatively quickly after standing in Tel Aviv and delivering the speech that launched his new political career, in which he announced his intention to lead the country. At that time, many looked at his statement with disbelief. Gantz also said his goal was to replace the government. He is currently on course to hit both targets.
His most impressive achievement is the creation of an equal government, which gives his Blue and White Party and Likud an equal number of ministerial positions. The vast majority of Gantz’s Knesset members are going to be ministers. Many will be senior ministers. Given that Blue and White scored fewer mandates than Likud in the last elections, the equivalence of ministerial positions amounts to another big achievement for Gantz.
The formation of the unity government represents the best of the Israeli spirit in the face of formidable crises. Israel’s nature is to unite during such times, just as it does during conflicts, days of remembrance, or more locally, when citizens rush to the aid of those in distress.
The coronavirus pandemic, a public health enemy, has managed to push the political system into overcoming divisions among parties, enabling them to rise above political feuds and egos.
The bravery and wisdom that Gantz displayed in leaving his former ally, Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid, is definitely worthy of remark and appreciation. Although it took Gantz a considerable amount of time to do so, had he remained professionally loyal to Lapid, rather than ideologically loyal to Israel, our country would now be heading toward the disastrous scenario of a fourth round of elections.
Gantz has demonstrated that his slogan, “Israel Above All Else,” is not merely rhetorical. He translated it into action, and his act of leadership has gained the respect of many, including from the right-wing camp. In tandem with this, we must unfortunately acknowledge that negotiations ahead of the agreement dragged on for far too long. They were hampered by disputes over issues such as the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee. Blue and White ended up compromising on this issue, just as Netanyahu compromised on the number of ministry portfolios he handed over to Blue and White.
Now, Netanyahu faces a crisis in his own bloc. The Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, is threatening to remain outside of the coalition. In Likud itself, ministers are angry about losing their positions. A growing number of figures in the right-wing camp could form a bloc that becomes determined to unseat Netanyahu.
During negotiations, Blue and White party sources were surprised by how quickly Netanyahu agreed to the demand that Yuli Edelstein, the Likud Knesset chairman, give up his position. This has turned Edelstein into a new rival for Netanyahu.
Edelstein could be joined by others, such as Gideon Sa’ar, who recently contested Netanyahu for the Likud leadership. Bennett, and Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman, whose party remains outside of the government, could also be central figures in such an alliance. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, is also due to return to Israel. He has challenged Netanyahu in past primaries.
In addition, Netanyahu’s trial is pending. In 18 months, according to the coalition agreement, he is obligated to step down. Taken together, these factors appear to spell the end of the Netanyahu era — although a year and a half is a long time, and surprises could still happen.
Meanwhile, it is also worthwhile keeping an attentive eye on Blue and White’s number two, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the foreign minister-designate. Gantz is now exhausted after a year of intensive political battles. Ashkenazi, who is highly popular among Likud voters, could benefit significantly from many of these developments, and seems to be moving closer to Gantz’s seat.
The author is a publishing expert at the MirYam Institute and is currently a leading political correspondent for and editor for the Israel Hayom/Israel Today newspaper, the most widely circulated publication in Israel.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.