After the initial agreement between Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, and the Israeli Prime Minister to form a unity government, it can be said that Benjamin Netanyahu has achieved what he would call a great victory. He announced this hastily on the basis of election exit polls before the votes were even counted last month.
Now Netanyahu can breathe a sigh of relief and will remain in power and so evade prosecution on the indictments filed against him. Of course, nothing is yet finalised; he awaits the deal with Gantz which looks as if it will be reached sooner rather than later, and has been delayed due to Netanyahu’s self-isolation to ensure that he is coronavirus free.
The agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu stipulates that a unity government is to be established for a period of three years; Netanyahu will be Prime Minister for the first 18 months, then Gantz will take over, having acted as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. In the second half, Netanyahu will manage foreign affairs and will be in charge of relations with Russia and the US. Given Netanyahu’s track record of failing to comply with agreements, the two prime ministers will be endorsed at the same time on the basis of a special law approved by parliament especially for this deal.
During the first half of the government’s term, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White bloc will be the Foreign Minister, and Minister of Defence in the second period, when the Likud will take over the Foreign Ministry. Blue and White candidates will hold the ministries of justice, communication, Jerusalem affairs, diaspora, agriculture, science, welfare, tourism, culture and social equality. Likud, Shas and United Torah Judaism will take over the rest.
The agreement stipulates that the government will be based on an equal distribution of ministerial positions between Blue and White and the right-wing bloc; that’s a problem for the latter, because the Likud candidates will have to give up many portfolios. For this reason, the number of ministers has been increased to 34, 30 of which will be appointed immediately, with the other four added later. The agreement also states that the Knesset Speaker be a member of the Likud, but not the former speaker, Yuli Edelstein, who is threatening Netanyahu that he will join the opposition if he is not appointed to a senior position.
The differences between Gantz and Netanyahu have not all been resolved, as there are still problems regarding the Health Ministry. Netanyahu wants the current minister, Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism alliance) to continue, allowing the Prime Minister to use the coronavirus crisis to his advantage. However, the latest reports suggest that Ashkenazi has turned the foreign affairs portfolio down and wants to take over health.
Furthermore, arguably the most important issue is that of Israel’s proposed annexation of the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. While Netanyahu wants to include this in the government programme straight away, Gantz wants to discuss it later and build on regional and international developments, rather than treating it as a given issue. Many analysts believe that Netanyahu will go ahead with the annexation, as it is one of his main campaign promises, perhaps due to pressure from US President Donald Trump, who may need it to happen in order to get the support of the right-wing Christian Evangelicals in November’s presidential election. He needs all the help he can get, with his popularity waning over his mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis.
Some people are angry at the Arab Joint List group in Israel, believing that the support of its Knesset members is the reason why Gantz decided to go into government with Netanyahu. The List is not, though, responsible for Netanyahu remaining in power. Nevertheless, critics believe that it was a mistake to recommend Gantz as Prime Minister. Others reject the idea of Palestinian citizens of Israel participating in elections on principle, and regard the formation of the next government with Gantz as a direct result of this participation.
This is an unrealistic way of thinking, because it contradicts the position of the general public; a large percentage of Palestinians in Israel voted this year, more than in previous elections, and achieved their biggest electoral success since the establishment of the Zionist state. Furthermore, if its Palestinian citizens did not participate in Israel’s elections, the radical right wing would win uncontested and a more extreme government would be formed. Palestinians would have few representatives in the Knesset, if any at all, and thus less of a say on government proposals.
A high level of Palestinian participation in the General Election gave the Israeli political status quo a major problem. The right-wing bloc’s loss of a working majority in three consecutive elections over the past twelve months will cast a shadow over the reformation of the Israeli political map, even if a government is formed and moves ahead with Netanyahu’s programme. This, say analysts, will lead to changes later on.
The presence of the Joint List as the largest single opposition group in the Knesset will have an impact on the rights of Palestinian in Israel and the future of their relations in the area in general. It is enough at this stage for representatives of the Joint List to head two committees in the Knesset. Moreover, their weight will have an impact on votes for draft legislation.
The biggest crisis within left-wing Zionist circles which basically lost across the board in the General Election last month, is the possibility that the alliance between the Labor Party and Meretz will be dissolved due to Amir Peretz, the Labor leader, planning to join the government. This will give the Joint List more influence in forming the opposition.
The Palestinian presence and participation is important, as the Palestinians are no longer just victims lamenting their luck, but are fighters who are firmly putting their foot down. This will undoubtedly reflect positively on the people of Palestine living in Israel as they insist that they do not want to stand idly by and watch as their rights are violated on a daily basis.
This article was translated from Al-Ayyam, 1 April 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.