After more than twelve months, Israel’s Knesset has sworn in its new government with 73 of 120 votes in favor. It will first be led by Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 months before Benny Gantz will replace him.
Introducing the Massive New Cabinet
Before the vote, Netanyahu presented his new cabinet, which, with 36 ministers, constitutes the largest in the country’s history. The reason for the bloated government is the problematic government negotiations between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’ Blue and White, during which all sides sought to secure as many offices as possible. So much so that the personal details for the cabinet had recently delayed the government’s inauguration.
“The people seek a unified government, and that’s what the people get today,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the parliamentary session. In addition to Likud, Blue and White, and partners from the religious and fundamentalist camp, the HaAvoda Labor Party will also be part of the new government. These compromises, Netanyahu continued, were inevitable since another election would have been devastating for the country. Gantz, meanwhile, stated during his speech in the Knesset that the days when governments represented only half of the population were over and that the country had opted for unity, which was precisely the new path that was now being taken.
The New Government’s Top Priorities
One of the main priorities of the new government will be the implementation of President Trump’s proposed Middle East peace plan – which provides for an independent Palestinian state – but also for Israel to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It was time to apply Israeli law and open another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism, Netanyahu said regarding the government’s vision. However, how the peace process will proceed is more open than ever after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ceased all relations with Israel and the United States on Wednesday.
In three parliamentary elections since April, 2019, there had been no clear result for a political camp, also because Gantz previously rejected a coalition with Netanyahu unequivocally. Two weeks ago, however, against the background of the COVID-19 crisis and the effects on Israel, Netanyahu and Gantz finally agreed on a unity government.
The Schedule of Leadership
Netanyahu will initially remain prime minister, while Gantz will initially become minister of defence. Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) becomes foreign minister, and the previous foreign minister Israel Katz (Likud) becomes finance minister in the new cabinet. Gantz’s previous office, President of the Knesset, will be conducted out by Yariv Levin (Likud).
Since Netanyahu’s power bloc consists of several smaller parties, he was only able to award a limited number of cabinet ministries to senior Likud representatives. To work around this problem and to reassure angry party members, Netanyahu introduced several new ministries. Including one for community development, one for settlement matters and one for higher education and water resources.
Naturally, these new ministries sparked criticism from the opposition. The prospective opposition leader Yair Lapid said that the artificial creation of offices had caused a loss of “trust in the Israeli public”. Besides, COVID-19 was an excuse for Netanyahu and his “corrupt party.” Israel’s emergency government was nothing more than “the largest and most wasteful in the country’s history,” Lapid concluded. Jesch has reason to be frustrated. His party was Yesh Atid had been an ally of Blue and White until Gantz recanted his promise and agreed with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu himself has been at the head of the government of Israel for longer than any other politician. He was head of government for the first time in 1996 and has been in office for three consecutive terms since 2009. However, at the end of May, Netanyahu will have to answer to the court for allegations of – inter alia – corruption and fraud. In the event of a guilty verdict, the government would thus end early. However, the latter is currently not to be expected, since Netanyahu’s lawyers are likely to ensure that the process is protracted for the time being.