The emergency government agreed to last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz promises to free Israel from the political paralysis it has endured for more than a year. With no majority coalition achieved by either leader after three elections, and with COVID-19’s ongoing disruptions, the emergency government is what Israel needs now, even if its future is wholly uncertain.
The consensus “winner” in the emergency government sweepstakes is Netanyahu. The reason for that is clear: Israel’s longest serving and most politically savvy prime minister will retain his job for 18 months. Then, he will step aside and hand over the job to Gantz, a political neophyte, who seems content to allow Netanyahu pretty wide control and authority despite the outward appearance of “shared leadership.”
According to reports, Netanyahu will largely retain control over the strings of government. For example, Netanyahu will remain prime minister even while he is on trial for corruption. And, if the Supreme Court rules that he is prohibited from serving in that capacity while being tried, a new election will be called.
Yes, Gantz is slated to move from Knesset speaker to defense minister, but even with that portfolio he will not have the final say on the West Bank — Netanyahu will. Similarly, while Gantz ally Avi Nissenkorn will be justice minister, all of his actions are subject to oversight by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is chaired by Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The numbers are daunting, and explain why this happened. Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 Knesset seats in the last election, and Netanyahu has had consistent, unwavering support from right-wing and religious parties. Together, they are just short of the necessary 61-member majority. In comparison, Gantz’s party broke apart over his decision to engage with Netanyahu. As a result, Blue and White is left with only 17 seats in the Knesset, making Gantz more like a “limited partner,” with a very weak hand. As if to symbolize that power differential, Gantz is scheduled to occupy the prime minister’s chair in 18 months, but Netanyahu will keep the prime minister’s house, even after the rotation.
But all of that is 18 months away. More immediately, the unity agreement opens the door to Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank beginning in July. Such a unilateral move will incite the Palestinians and inflame the Arab world, jeopardizing Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and threatening Israel’s security. While such annexation will require the approval of the United States, there is good reason to believe that President Trump would give the move his blessing. What would happen next is anyone’s guess.
It is against that backdrop that we celebrated Israel’s 72nd Independence Day on Wednesday — recognizing that her future is more uncertain than it has been in quite some time.