The extraordinary developments in Israel continue. Some of us at the NCF have been astonished from the outset almost four weeks ago when the latest developments had their genesis. For those of you who are not up to speed the following has just come in from the Conservative Friends of Israel:
In an unexpected development on Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Gantz signed an agreement to form an emergency unity government, bringing to an apparent end a nearly year-and-a-half-long political stalemate.
A joint statement from Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party said the agreement was to form a “national emergency government” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The coalition agreement will include a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz as Prime Minister in 18 month periods, with the other as a deputy. Under the terms of the deal, Netanyahu will assume the position of Prime Minister first and later be replaced by Gantz in October 2021. Benny Gantz will initially serve as Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. It is the first time in 36 years that Israel will have a rotating Prime Minister.
The deal is expected to be signed formally after Israel’s Independence Day Yom Ha’atzmaut next week, after which the other right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious bloc would sign on to it.
Gantz posted on Twitter shortly after the announcement: “We prevented fourth elections. We’ll safeguard democracy… We’ll fight the coronavirus and look out for all Israeli citizens. We have a national emergency government”.
Snap opinion polls suggest most of the Israeli public is pleased by the prospect of finally having a fully functioning government, but does not widely believe Netanyahu will actually go through with handing over the Prime Minister’s post to Gantz after 18 months of the coalition’s scheduled three-year lifespan.
The government will initially have 32 ministers, divided equally between the Netanyahu-led and Gantz-led blocs, and then increase to 36 ministers as soon as the coronavirus crisis is deemed to have ended, in what will be the largest cabinet by far in Israel’s history.
The Likud and its right-wing partners will receive the Finance, Health, Internal Security, Construction, Transportation and Education portfolios. Blue and White will receive the Defence, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Economy, Communications and Culture portfolios.
A major bone of contention has been the makeup and mechanics of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which installs judges. Netanyahu, who has been indicted on multiple counts of corruption, including bribery, demanded veto power over nominations. Under the agreement reached on Monday night, Likud ensured de facto right-wing veto power on the panel, with the appointment of Blue and White’s MK Zvi Hauser, a former cabinet secretary under Netanyahu. This was immediately condemned by Yesh Atid leader and former Gantz ally Yair Lapid.
Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn is expected to be the next Justice Minister, a decision welcomed by top officials in the justice system.
The Knesset speaker will be a member of the Likud for the whole duration of the government. Blue and White member Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as Foreign Minister for the first 18 months before being replaced by someone from Likud.
The final agreement conforms with most of Netanyahu’s demands, including on the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a process that it says can begin in July 2020. According to the agreement, the adoption of the Trump plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace will be carried out in coordination with the US.
Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas (9 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7 seats) have provisionally been given the ministries they requested, however they have not yet formally endorsed the new government and could yet prove to be an obstacle. Gantz has previously vowed to not concede to the Ultra-Orthodox and his previous association with Yair Lapid (an avowed secularist) is a cause for concern for the parties.
Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid and former ally of Benny Gantz, on Tuesday accused the Blue and White leader of perpetrating “the worst act of fraud in the history of this country” by joining forces with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lapid claimed that by abandoning his three-time election pledge to not sit in government with Netanayahu so long as he is under indictment, Gantz’s alliance would enable Netanyahu to evade investigation in several other potential scandals.
On Sunday, some 5,000 Israelis took part in a socially distanced protest in Tel Aviv over their condemnation of Netanyahu’s continuing rule.