Israel sidesteps fourth election as decisive day in parliament concludes with deadline delay
Israel’s government will live to see another 120 days, after passing a last-second amendment delaying its budget deadline by four months.
The dramatic moments in parliament late Monday night, in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz sparred via press conferences and video releases, were the temporary culmination of weeks of bitter battles and disputes between the political rivals-turned-partners.
Both men will now have to endure several more agonizing months together in government, before the option of a fourth election in two years arises again on December 23.
“In politics, it’s not necessarily ‘follow the money.’ It’s more ‘follow the electorate,’” Lior Chorev, a prominent strategic adviser who in the past consulted for then-prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, explained to The Media Line. “Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu want elections.”
Chorev points to Israel’s dire economic, health and security situations, saying, “The government isn’t able to show any achievements in those areas. You can’t go to elections like that. In this situation, both [Netanyahu and Gantz] are losers, but they have the same motive.
“In Israel, same as in the [United] States, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’” he says. “People who till last year enjoyed great economic success, now find themselves unemployed, and it will only get worse in the coming months, according to all projections.
“Both sides paid with political collateral last night to buy time.”
The government isn’t able to show any achievements. … You can’t go to elections like that. In this situation, both [Netanyahu and Gantz] are losers, but they have the same motive
While Netanyahu promised on Sunday to agree to a compromise that would help avert immediate dissolution of the Knesset and a general election in November, by Monday morning it appeared no real deal had been reached between the two coalition partners.
The main sticking point seemed to be the issue of appointing high-ranking law enforcement officials such as the police commissioner, attorney general and state attorney – all positions currently vacant or set to become so in the coming weeks. While Netanyahu requested a say in the process, Blue and White refused, agreeing only to appoint a committee that would review the matter before making decisions.
The prime minister, whose trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust will enter its hearing witness phase in January, was instructed by Israel’s attorney general to keep away from any such appointments.
“There is no doubt that Netanyahu blinked first,” Ronen Tzur, a strategic adviser who ran Blue and White’s first campaign and later advised Gantz personally, told The Media Line. “His fake election stunt failed miserably, and he didn’t get his wish of appointing high-ranking officials.”
While it appears Netanyahu did fold on the judicial front, his initial desire, procuring an exit point from the coalition agreement before handing over the government reins to Gantz in November 2021 as promised, was achieved.
If Netanyahu prevents a state budget from being passed before the new deadline, he will remain in office while an early election is held in March. His signed promise to step down and allow Gantz to become prime minister is now considered null and void by most everyone in parliament.
“In political terms, Gantz’s funeral has already begun,” Chorev explains. “He just has to decide whether he wants to arrive there in a hearse or an Audi A8,” he says, alluding to the alternate prime minister’s government-issued car.
“He couldn’t manage to turn their written agreement into law last night, including the part about an equal, ‘paritetic’ government,” Chorev points out, using a word employed to describe unity arrangements in Reformation Europe and 1980s Israel. “So in essence, anything Netanyahu wants to pass, he can. He has a majority of the ministers [in the cabinet].”
Still, during a surprise press conference last night, Gantz struck a different tone than the conciliatory one heard from him since the government’s formation.
“A hundred days ago, I decided to put aside any personal or political calculations, and put the good of the country first,” he claimed. “For the past 100 days, I’ve proved to my partner that I want to cooperate. I remained silent in the face of personal attacks, … but my 100 days of containment and silence … are over. I won’t tolerate it anymore.”
Gantz went on to warn, “If, God forbid, we hold an election now, blood will be spilled in the streets. At this hour, I will not allow anyone to threaten the Israeli people with elections. No one will disintegrate our democracy or appoint his puppets to critical positions on my watch.”
Despite the strong words, the embattled alternate prime minister and defense minister’s political future seems bleak.
If [Gantz] continues to show weakness in his dealing with Netanyahu, like he has till now, it will pose a strategic problem for Blue and White
“Until this morning, his only achievement was that he prevented a fourth election back in May,” Chorev says. “Now he’ll try to display his potential areas of success, like protecting the judicial system from Netanyahu, or the security issue, which may heat up in Gaza or Lebanon.”
Tzur, who was seen last night entering Gantz’s office in parliament before the emergency press conference, believes the former general’s political life is not necessarily over. “The rest of the way is up to him. If he continues to show weakness in his dealing with Netanyahu, like he has till now, it will pose a strategic problem for Blue and White,” Tzur says.
The only place Netanyahu ever achieved any success was in Washington. If he loses his friend in the White House, it will be a totally different world. Gantz’s standing will automatically improve
As for Netanyahu, the consensus in Jerusalem is that he will break for a flash election as soon as the economic and health crises improve. Yet that may take time, something the prime minister does not have in abundance.
“His trial is advancing, the economy is only getting worse, and there’s a very dramatic factor we didn’t have [in previous election campaigns] – the US presidential election,” Chorev says. “You can’t overemphasize the importance of November 3. The only place Netanyahu ever achieved any success was in Washington. If he loses his friend in the White House, it will be a totally different world. Gantz’s standing will automatically improve.”
Approaching midnight Monday, minutes before the Knesset was to be dissolved, both principal parties in the beleaguered unity government agreed to stay together just a few months longer. Like it or not, Israelis across the country hope issues like the raging pandemic and the historic recession will now take precedence in the minds of their politicians.
By December 23, they will have their answer.