They Call it a Unity Government. But It Leaves Israel as Divided as Ever | Opinion

On Sunday, a new Israeli government was sworn in. After more than 500 days of successive interim governments, there is now a duly elected one. However, celebration was limited—and not because of the 100+ degree heat wave gripping the country. Among Tel Aviv denizens, few feel their will had been served in the creation of this new government.

Tel Aviv residents voted overwhelmingly for the Blue and White Party. Almost all those voters cast ballots for Blue and White because they believed the time had come to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But although 52 percent of the country voted for parties who pledged to replace him, Netanyahu was sworn in as Prime Minister, once again. Yes, it was slightly different this time. Benny Gantz was sworn in as the alternate Prime Minister alongside him. Moreover, Netanyahu even mentioned the date when Gantz is scheduled to replace him as Prime Minister. However, few believe that transition will ever happen.

I could fill this page attempting to explain the strange two-headed government that has been forged, with cabinet ministers who report to one or the other of the two leaders. I could write about a coalition that is the largest in Israel's history, with 36 cabinet ministers, and new ministries that serve no real purpose, and will no doubt cause more harm than good. I could talk about the complete disconnect between the creation of new ministries, staffed with administrators, advisors and drivers, that will no doubt cost hundreds of millions of dollars, at a time when Israel faces its most difficult economic challenges in decades (including an unemployment rate of over 20 percent.)

However, instead I want to discuss the confusion and near sense of hopelessness felt by the more than a million voters who chose Blue and White and the Labor Party, both of whom have entered Netanyahu's fifth government—after the leaders of both parties repeatedly stated the one thing they would not do is sit in a government led by a Prime Minister facing indictment.

I excuse my fellow Tel Avivians for feeling a bit schizophrenic at a time like this, for I share their sense of anxiety and disequilibrium. On one hand, for the realists among us, who recognize that due to the betrayal by several new coalition members — two from Blue and White and one from Gesher-Labor—there was no path to form a coalition without Netanyahu. As a result, the only other alternative would have been a fourth election, and yet another transitional government. Netanyahu would have remained at the helm, acting as if he had the full powers of a duly elected government behind him.

On the other hand, despite the feeling of having been double-crossed, Gantz's decision to become part of Netanyahu's coalition did deliver some benefit to Blue and White voters. For many, it constitutes a clear improvement to have Avi Nissenkorn, former head of the Histadrut, as Minister of Justice, as opposed to leaving that essential ministry in the hands of Amir Ohana, whose goal appears to have been to systematically undermine the justice system in the time leading up to the Netanyahu trial, due to begin next week.

For Blue and White voters, it is certainly better to have Benny Gantz serve as Defense Minister, in place of Naftali Bennett, who is ideologically committed to Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank.

And the list goes on. In the eyes of Blue and White voters, it is clearly better to have a government barred from implementing any significant action without Gantz's agreement.

While these achievements are all good in the view of Blue and White and Labor voters, the question remains—were the colossal concessions worth it?

Was avoiding a fourth election worth seeing those who voted for Blue and White and Labor abandon their most fundamental promises? Was it right for Gantz and his compatriots to decide that their voters' votes deem it retroactively acceptable for a Prime Minister to run for office and form a government again, despite having been charged with a series of crimes he committed while he served as Prime Minister — including bribery?

Was discarding several of the moral values certain leaders continually claimed to hold dear worth it to stop some of the worst attacks on the judiciary in the history of the country? Can anything excuse having been forced to agree to the unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank—a position Blue and White and Labor oppose?

In his speech on Sunday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz asserted he had entered the government to unite the nation and heal the divisions. But whom does Gantz think he is uniting? While at this point, many of his voters support his entry into the government — because there seems little choice — Gantz is undoubtedly no longer their leader; almost all Blue and White voters feel profoundly betrayed. Gantz's entry into the government united no one, it merely avoided another election, and another interim Netanyahu Prime Ministership. Perhaps that is good enough for some, but for many, it's another bitter disappointment.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The view expressed in this article are the author's own.