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Israel’s Government Enters New Phase – with Lowered Expectations
‘Enemies: A Coalition Story.’ Binyamin Netanyahu (left) and Benny Gantz. (US State Department; Reuven Kapochinsky/Israel Resilience Party)

Israel’s Government Enters New Phase – with Lowered Expectations

After surviving critical extension of budget deadline, it remains unclear what next crisis will be for Netanyahu-Gantz partnership

Israel’s tormented “unity government” embarked on a new path last week after granting itself a reprieve and extending for four months the country’s budget deadline – which if not met, automatically means a dissolution of parliament and new elections.

Both sides to the coalition, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, promised to play nice going forward and join hands in an effort to battle the health and economic crises plaguing the nation.

Yet just what this troubled, often conflicted pairing can achieve in the coming 120 days remains to be seen, pundits say.

“I did not hold out hope for this government and I still don’t,” Prof. Avner de-Shalit, former dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “I can’t have high expectations of people who are so unprofessional and care only about themselves.”

I did not hold out hope for this government and I still don’t

In addition to the budget deadline, the agreement reached calls for an extension of accords signed in May, when the government was formed. Chief among them is a stipulation to avoid legislative action that does not revolve around the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

“This government’s function was to try to prevent a fourth election, in which it succeeded, as well as tend to the coronavirus, in which it has [been] a colossal failure,” de-Shalit said.

To avoid any friction in the coming months, Netanyahu and Gantz – who fail to see eye-to-eye on the judicial system, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, budget priorities and more – agreed to simply not address those issues.

To avoid any friction in the coming months, Netanyahu and Gantz – who fail to see eye-to-eye on the judicial system, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, budget priorities and more – agreed to simply not address those issues.

The renewed pact stipulates that any bills brought for a vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will first need to be sanctioned by both parties, and any drafts presented by the opposition will be voted down by all coalition members.

In addition, candidates for high-ranking posts such as the police commissioner, state attorney and attorney general will first be brought before a committee made up of Likud and Blue and White representatives, which will determine the appointment process.

Because of the three election cycles of 2019-2020, Israel has not had a permanent police commissioner for nearly 21 months or a permanent state attorney for over eight months, an unprecedented situation that is not expected to change anytime soon.

“This ‘paralysis government’ is awful, but we need to see it in context. The alternative would have been much worse,” says de-Shalit, who in the past advised government ministries and parliamentary committees on social and environmental issues.

“Elections right now would be horrible for the markets and would compound the already incredible deficit,” he explains, “but I’m not sure that was on the table. The alternative I’m talking about is a government without Blue and White, just the right-wing bloc…. Despite all its flaws, this is the preferable solution.”

Prof. Amal Jamal, former chair of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, does not consider this a “paralyzed” government at all.

“The trouble is not with the government’s inaction, but, on the contrary, its overzealous activity in certain areas,” he told The Media Line.

According to Jamal, current policy is to “deliberately injure” basic democratic institutions.

“Nothing is functioning properly, and I believe this is an integral part of Netanyahu’s agenda, to allow non-formal politics to take over formal politics,” he explained. “This erosion and erasure of things like the separation of powers and checks and balances – it’s not negligence, it’s by design.”

Nothing is functioning properly, and I believe this is an integral part of Netanyahu’s agenda, to allow non-formal politics to take over formal politics. This erosion and erasure of things like the separation of powers and checks and balances – it’s not negligence, it’s by design

Netanyahu and Gantz explain their self-imposed gridlock as a means of focusing on the most pressing matter at hand – the deteriorating public health situation and the historic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Any subject not related to the economic or health crises will be taken off the agenda, and we will handle it separately,” Gantz promised, while Netanyahu explained that “this is the time to join hands in the face of such challenges.”

Following the latest drama, the government is now expected to pass a comprehensive plan to battle the further spread of infections. While no budget was passed – and none is expected to be passed in the coming weeks – the task of appropriating compensatory funds for the unemployed and collapsing business sector is at the top of the coalition’s to-do list.

Also on the agenda are possible normalization accords with additional Arab nations, which Netanyahu hopes will arrive on the wings of the recently signed deal with the United Arab Emirates. Potential peace agreements with countries in the region seem to be the only topic on which both sides of the coalition can agree.

“It’s total anarchy. We’ve gotten used to it and now we’re happy that they [Gantz and Netanyahu] agreed to do nothing,” is how opposition leader Yair Lapid of the left-of-center Yesh Atid party described the situation. “The real losers… are the Israeli people. No budget, no plan to handle unemployment…. Pathetic and sad.”

Lapid’s partner in the opposition, Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina party, attacked the government as “so failing, so embarrassing, so unprofessional, so not smart, so clumsy.”

Bennett, who was a faithful ally of Netanyahu until a falling-out, added: “It is time for new leadership for Israel.”

It is time for new leadership for Israel

Most Israelis hope that the governing coalition’s two warring factions will manage to set aside their differences and tend to the ailing country. If that is to happen, those factions have their work cut out for them.

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