Israel Cobbles a Convoluted Coalition to Cope with its Most Complex Crisis Yet. Good Luck | Opinion

The sun had begun to set in Jerusalem, minutes away from the start of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and General Benny Gantz announced they had signed an agreement calling for Gantz's Blue and White party to enter into a coalition with Netanyahu's Likud party. Closing this deal constitutes a moment of both tremendous accomplishment and great betrayal by Gantz. For Netanyahu, the occasion must have been bittersweet.

Gantz realized his achievements with a party of only 17 Knesset members (the other half of Gantz's party split when he began negotiations with Netanyahu). The general brokered an understanding that gave his party parity with all the parties of the right-wing combined; parties which represent 58 seats. In addition, Gantz negotiated a nearly bulletproof agreement that he hopes will allow him to become Prime Minister in 18 months, after Netanyahu switches places with him as Deputy Prime Minister.

On the positive side for Netanyahu — he obliterated the opposition, and of even greater value, as Ashel Pfeffer, author of Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: "The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz is basically the terms of Gantz's employment as Bibi's bodyguard. He is now bound to protect and cover him for the next three years, so he can serve 18 months as a prime minister with Netanyahu wielding the real power in government."
On the negative side for the veteran politician, there is now a date when Netanyahu will no longer be Prime Minister. Netanyahu will, however, be able to continue to live in a government provided house, after insisting the agreement call for official residences for both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

To the overwhelming numbers of Blue and White party voters, Gantz's decision to enter into a coalition with Bibi is considered an extraordinary betrayal. Gantz led the opposition through three elections, with one explicit campaign promise — i.e., to replace Netanyahu and not enter into a coalition with a now-indicted Prime Minister, who, barring the Corona epidemic, would have already been a month into his trial for bribery, breach of trust and corruption.

Gantz's betrayal seems even more potent, given that other than being granted a broad range of ministerial portfolios, Gantz did not achieve acceptance of any of the policies his voters wanted. He agreed to go along with Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank, something his voters vehemently oppose—several conditions notwithstanding, including consultations within the region, and of course, approval of the Trump administration. It should be noted that it's unclear whether Netanyahu himself wants to go ahead with annexation. However, based on the signed agreement, he can. Gantz also folded on the critical issue of the ultra-Orthodox military service, agreeing to go along with the terms the ultra-Orthodox want in a new bill regulating their draft.

According to Gantz, the agreement he signed will stop the ongoing attacks on the judiciary, replacing the current Justice Minister, who has waged war on the Justice system, with a member of Blue and White. The same is true for the Ministry of Culture, where the current Minister, Miri Regev has attempted to censor Israeli culture in ways found repugnant by many. It will also bring some more experienced and less ideologically driven individuals to other ministries.

Regarding his banding together with Netanyahu, Gantz has argued he had no choice. Gantz asserted that during time of a Coronavirus pandemic, Israel needs a fully functioning government, and not the interim government it has had for the last year and a half—or, indeed a fourth election. Although the new government has been labeled an "emergency government," allegedly mobilized to deal with the pandemic, the final coalition agreement is mostly silent on the issue — other than giving control of the Knesset's Corona oversight committee to the Likud.

To underscore the lack of focus addressing Israel's Coronavirus plan, the country's current Health Minister (whose leadership has failed during the crisis so far, and who is likely soon be indicted for protecting a member of the ultra-Orthodox community from extradition to Australia), will remain in place as Israel continues to deal with the world's most significant health crisis in a century. In fact, Blue and White has not gotten any of the portfolios that deal with managing the pandemic.

Gantz is correct about one thing. He would not have been able to form a government. Sixty-two members of the parliament recommended to the President that Gantz be tasked with forming the government. The pair of the most powerful two-time opponents of creating a minority government with support from the Joint (Arab-Israeli) List from the outside — Moshe "Boogie" Yaalon and Avigdor Lieberman — indicated that if it meant unseating Netanyahu, they would go along this time, after strenuously opposing the idea after the second election.

But ultimately, three MKs — none with any viable electoral support — torpedoed the minority option. Orly Levi-Abekasis, who had merged her failed Gesher party with Labor (thanks to the urging of Amir Peretz), said she would vote against a government supported by the Arab parties. Gideon Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who entered the Blue and White coalition of parties together with Yaalon, also made it clear they would not support such a government. With their opposition, those three stole the votes and wills of the majority of their voters.

One other act of treachery should be noted — that of Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli. In the third election, the pair had merged their Labor list with that of Meretz. Peretz vouched for Levi-Abekasis, who is the daughter of one of the Likud party's royalty, former foreign Minister David Levi. Before the second election, Peretz shaved off his iconic mustache — so that people could more easily "read his lips," as part of his declaration he would never go into a coalition with Netanyahu. Peretz has now merged the Labor party into Blue and White, and has accepted the position of Commerce Minister. At the same time, Shmuli, one of the leaders of the 2011 protest movement, and once considered an up and coming leader of the Left will join the new government as its Welfare Minister.

Over the next week, several basic laws need to be passed by the Knesset — one, to establish the role of a Deputy Prime Minister, who automatically succeeds the serving Prime Minister, as well as other changes in Israeli governance — in order for Israeli law to match this agreement. Quickly passing these laws may not prove easy. The Supreme Court, who has avoided ruling on whether an individual under indictment can be permitted to form a government, will now be forced to rule on that issue.

Assuming all this works out to the benefit of Gantz and Netanyahu, a new government will be sworn in, before the Knesset is forced to disband by law; a timeframe of about three weeks. This new government, which will be the biggest in Israel's history, with 32 cabinet members and 12 deputies, will need to provide solutions for a country with current unemployment rate is 25 percent. It will be asked to do so without the support of ver 50 percent of the voters, who voted for a government led by anyone other than Prime Minister Netanyahu. Best of luck to us all.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own