How the Coronavirus Crisis Could Allow Netanyahu to Hold on to Power

The coronavirus situation in Israel is getting worse. At the time of writing, there are 210 confirmed cases in the country and 40,000 are being held in home quarantine. There have been no deaths so far.

Could Coronavirus be the Surprise Solution to Israel’s Political Deadlock?

An unintended consequence of the global pandemic could be the way it affects Israel’s current political deadlock. The country had two inconclusive elections last year. The country saw a tug-of-war between two factions: a nationalist-religious coalition under previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a politically diverse alliance under Benny Gantz, a previous general chief of staff in the IDF who had never previously run for office.

A third election on March 2 resulted in Netanyahu’s Likud Party missing just one seat to form a government. Netanyahu was at first optimistic, however a number of parties have since lent their support to Gantz and conditionally given him the seats needed. He has been given six weeks by the president to form a coalition.

Pandemic Highlights Urgency for Israel to Perform Government Basics Like Passing a Budget

Meanwhile, Israel is in a dangerous predicament. The country has a caretaker government, which cannot pass budgets, meaning the country cannot move as fast as it possibly could to counter the virus. Netanyahu has leapt on the opportunity presented. He has called for a six-month emergency government or, alternatively, for Gantz to form a longer-term four-year unity administration with him, and Netanyahu would lead the country for two years.

Furthermore, any postponement is good news for Netanyahu, who has served as a caretaker leader since late 2018. If the situation worsens, the current government will be left with no choice but to approve Netanyahu’s suggestion and form an emergency government.

This would disrupt and could potentially end Gantz’s precarious lead over his rival. By allowing Netanyahu to preside over the crisis, Netanyahu may also earn enough goodwill to secure another term.

Gantz’s Next Move

Regardless, the next thing will be for Gantz to try and establish his coalition. There is scope for the current emergency to help him as well, if politicians can be convinced to lend their support to quickly resolve the pandemic instead of vying over policy in the interests of their own parties.

It won’t be easy. There is not much that unites the prospective coalition. The parties supporting Gantz run the gamut from far-right to far-left.

They include the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party and the mostly Arab Joint List parties. The head of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, has very hostile relations with the Joint List, a fairly influential party, with 15 seats. The Joint List on the other hand has insisted that it wont seat in any government with Lieberman. Lieberman supports transfer of Arab settlements near the Green Line into a future Palestine state.

It indicates the strangeness of the current political moment that such an alliance is even in discussion. The Joint List, for their part, insisted it won’t sit on any government with Lieberman and, prior to the election. Gantz himself ruled out the possibility of allying with them. In the end, however, these parties may judge that the most important thing is to push Netanyahu out.

Gantz has been given six weeks to form the government: a surprise reprieve. However, the almost intractable differences between potential coalition partners makes success unlikely. It is for this reason that Netanyahu is fortunate that the crisis has emerged when it has. It could bring him at least another six months.