Israel finally has a government after three elections and a year of political deadlock. On Monday afternoon, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz and long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally reached an agreement to form a “national emergency government” to deal with the country’s COVID-19 pandemic.
“We prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will battle corona and we will worry about all the citizens of Israeli. We have a national emergency government,” Gantz told Twitter followers on Monday evening.
The agreement will stave off a fourth round of national elections, and ensure Gantz a tilt at the premiership in 18 months. Under the power-sharing deal, Netanyahu will stay on as prime minister for half of a three-year term, before a switch to allow Gantz to take the reins.
“I promised the State of Israel a national emergency government that will act to save the lives and livelihoods of Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu Tweeted after the deal was sealed.
Devil is in the Detail
It will also deliver a large, mixed cabinet of 32 ministers with spots for members of Likud and the Blue and White Party, including the role of deputy prime minister and plum defense minister Gantz. Blue and White deputy-leader Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as foreign minister, and party colleague Avi Nissenkorn is set to lead the justice ministry. The key roles of finance and public security ministers and Knesset speaker will go to Likud.
During consecutive election campaigns, Gantz had promised not to partner with Likud to form a majority coalition, as long as Netanyahu remained Prime Minister. Netanyahu is facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, connected to three separate cases, the trials for which have been delayed until May by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Therein lies one of the most controversial aspects of Gantz and Netanyahu’s emergency coalition government. Under the arrangement, the Judicial Appointments Committee will be headed by Blue and White’s Zvi Hauser and the right-wing Likud will retain veto power over the committee’s decisions.
Gantz Alienates Opposition
The compromise drew the ire of former Gantz ally, Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid, who campaigned alongside Blue and White in all three elections but dropped support for Gantz after he accepted the role of parliamentary speaker.
Lapid took to Twitter to lambast the deal saying, “the compromise on the Judicial Appointments Committee is that Bibi [Netanyahu] chose all its representatives.”
“Gantz and [Blue and White MK Gabi] Ashkenazi agreed to allow the criminal defendant to appoint the judges that will adjudicate his affairs,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s upcoming trials.
Yesh Atid-Telem, Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beytenu, and the Arab Joint List will likely sit in opposition and have been forthcoming with their criticism of Gantz. Despite holding disparate political values, they all seem united in their disdain for Gantz and his inability to unseat Netanyahu.
“This is another government of Netanyahu and his Haredi-messianic bloc with a fig leaf of two senior [generals],” Liberman told Facebook followers, denoting Gantz and foreign minister-to-be Ashkenazi.
“Gantz wasn’t brave enough to win, and chose to give a kosher stamp to annexation [in the West Bank], racism, and corruption,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh jibed in a statement.
Deep Distrust Marked Negotiations
Another sticking point of the negotiations was what would happen to Netanyahu if he was convicted, whenever his trials can go ahead, according to Israeli political analyst Avraham Diskin who was privy to some of the talks.
“There was a total lack of trust. I pray that the government will hold up and won’t miss the opportunity with fights over nonsense,” Diskin told the Associated Press.
Likud sought assurance that Netanyahu would not be forced to stand down at the end of his 18 month premiership, and Blue and White likewise sought assurance that the government would hold for long enough to give Gantz his chance as prime minister.
Under Israeli law, any parliamentarian facing judicial action must step down, except the prime minister, who has immunity from prosecution.
Netanyahu claimed victory in the March 2 poll but still failed to win enough seats to gain a governing majority. President Reuven Rivlin gave Benny Gantz the opportunity to form a coalition government, but talks failed and the president handed the responsibility of forming government to Knesset members on April 16.
It is unclear whether the new “emergency coalition” government will be able to survive its initial six-month tenure and successfully transition into a fully functioning majority coalition. Right-wing Likud and center-left Blue and White have such vastly different policy agendas and ideological positions that governing together will no doubt be tricky.