Israel Netanyahu (La Presse)

Netanyahu Strikes Deal with Gantz

After months of uncertainty, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz announced early Monday evening that both sides had come together for the good of the country and signed a coalition agreement.

Details of the Deal

Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White party are going to form an emergency government, primarily according to the official dictum  to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The agreement carries a peculiarity, however. Netanyahu will initially remain prime minister, while Gantz, who will initially become minister of defense, takes over the office of Netanyahu after 18 months. The agreement was the only way to end a standoff between Netanyahu’s right-religious block and the center-left camp around Gantz, which has kept the country from forming a viable government for more than a year.

“We prevented a fourth election, we will preserve democracy,” while promising that the new government would fight COVID-19 and take care of Israel’s citizens, Gantz tweeted Monday evening. Meanwhile, Netanyahu tweeted that he had promised a national emergency government that would support the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. He would now “continue to do everything for you citizens of Israel.”

What Led to the Deal?

Prior to the agreement, Gantz’s mandate to form a government had expired on Wednesday evening. Israel’s President Rivlin then transferred the mandate to the Knesset. Within three weeks, each MP  including Gantz and Netanyahu  was eligible to secure the support of 61 of the 120 MPs. It was an impossibility and was likely to force Israel to conduct its next election: the fourth since April 2019.

Despite the fact that both parties realized the urge to form a grand coalition in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, nonetheless, the negotiations continued to stall as compromises could not be found. Blue and White continued to increase the pressure, however, by stating that without an agreement, a law would be introduced in Parliament on Monday that would prevent Netanyahu from being commissioned to form the government in the future based on the charges of corruption against him.

The Main Issues at Stake

A central issue in the coalition negotiations was the demand by Netanyahu’s Likud for a veto right to appoint judges. Netanyahu also sought to implement a mechanism that would allow him to circumvent any supreme court ruling stating that he could not serve as prime minister or vice prime minister due to the corruption charges. The latter allows Netanyahu to protect himself for a simple reason: should the Supreme Court ban Netanyahu on the charges of being head of government, Gantz would not automatically become prime minister, but new elections could be called.

However, it is questionable whether this scenario will occur at all since the coalition agreements guarantee Netanyahu considerable influence on the selection of the country’s judiciary. In any case, Netanyahu was able to set the course for the corruption process that is going to begin at the end of May.

West Bank Annexation

It is also part of the coalition agreement that Netanyahu can already annex parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank in July. Such a step is envisaged for the region in the Trump Administration’s peace plan. Gantz will have no veto right on the question, as the coalition agreement refers to his powers as “consultation.” Nevertheless, a dialogue with the international community will be launched in order to safeguard the security and strategic interests, including “regional stability, preserve existing peace agreements and work towards future peace agreements.”

Gantz had previously rejected a coalition with the Likud party headed by Netanyahu, primarily on charges of corruption. In mid-March, however, Gantz said in parliament, referring to the Corona crisis  that he would do everything in his power to form a coalition. Since then, critics have accused him of breaking his central campaign promise, submitting without a fight and sneaking his way into a government, as opposition politician Yair Lapid stated about his former ally Gantz.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that after 16 months of permanent political gridlock and three elections without a clear majority, Israel has now formed its new government. However, it is uncertain whether this fragile alliance, formed in the wake of the corona pandemic, can bring political stability in the long term. Nevertheless, a solution was urgently needed amid the crisis, and even if it came with a high price for all parties involved  except for Netanyahu, it would appear.