Political Gamesmanship Heats Up as Israeli Politicians Try to Form a Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview this weekend in which he claimed that a deal on a unity government between his Likud party and his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has already been reached and is just waiting to be signed. The deal would provide for a rotational premiership between the leaders of the two main parties over a specified period.

More About the Power-Sharing Deal

The power-sharing arrangement would involve the Likud party starting off with the posts of prime minister, finance minister and Knesset speaker, while Blue and White would start with the positions of deputy prime minister and foreign minister. The two parties would hold the positions for one and a half years after which they would rotate.

In a message directed at Gantz, Netanyahu vowed to stick to the deal saying “I will leave office on the agreed date. There will be no shticks and tricks. Millions of Israelis are waiting for us.”

However the claims of a deal were quickly downplayed d by Gantz who said “those who want to unity do not work with ultimatums and harmful leaks and certainly do not try to hurt our democracy and citizens by paralysing the Knesset.”

Gantz’s Position

From Gantz statement one could deduce two important points: one is that while there is the possibility of a deal the details have been leaked too early by Netanyahu. Secondly is that the issue of who will be the speaker of the Knesset continues to present the biggest hurdle in the talks of a unity government.

Israel’s center-left have been mounting pressure on Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein to organize for the election of a new speaker of the Knesset speaker to allow the formation of the Arrangement Committee . Efforts to replace Edelstein started late last year when the Blue and White accused him of being part of a plot to protect Netanyahu from prosecution through new legislations.

Emboldened with the endorsement  of a number of parties, last week the Blue and White increased pressure on Edelstein to act but he refused. At first Edelstein argued that his refusal was a safety precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in line with social distancing policy, but later on said it was meant to put pressure on Gantz and Netanyahu to compromise.

Gantz: ‘In a Democratic Regime the Legislature Cannot Be Paralyzed’

This prompted the Blue and White to send Edelstein a letter informing him that he had no authority to stop the convening of the Knesset and claiming that his decision was mainly motivated by a personal interest to remain speaker. Adding his voice to the standoff was Gantz who declared, “In a democratic regime, the legislature cannot be paralysed and prevented from expressing the will and the votes of the citizens. Anyone who thinks he can advance us to a borderline dictatorship is mistaken.”

Although  the pro-Gantz legislators are claiming that their goal is to help deal with the current emergency situation caused by the coronavirus, they also have a hidden aim of disqualifying Netanyahu from forming a government because of the charges facing him.

Netanyahu’s Power Bloc: Removing Knesset Speaker Would be a Dealbreaker

A bill that that would prevent anybody facing criminal charges from forming a government has already been submitted by Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beytenu who is now a leading supporter of Gantz. According to the newspaper Ynet Netanyahu’s replacement in any unity government formed would be sought from members of his party serving in the cabinet.

Pro-Netanyahu bloc has warned that a move to remove the speaker would be a red line in the formation of a unity government.

“We seen any attempt to oust the incumbent speaker before a viable government emerges crosses a red line and eliminates the possibility of forming a broad emergency government ”

“These Iranian laws will prevent Prime Minister Netanyahu from serving as prime minister and running for direct ministerial elections , which Lapid scandously plan to hold in in this term already during the crisis,” Likud leaders have said.

Netanyahu Accuses Blue and White Party of Disloyalty and Playing Politics in a Time of National Crisis

Netanyahu himself has decried the plans to oust him saying, “While I am fighting the coronavirus , they Blue and White are trying to topple a prime minister who is steering the ship through a storm.”

But in what is seen as a major victory for the pro-Grantz bloc, the High Court in Jerusalem made a decision this past Sunday wherein they ruled that Knesset speaker Edelstein must organize a parliamentary vote on his replacement by Wednesday.

The Likud legislators have ruled out participating in such a vote accusing the Blue and White party of “dictatorial , destructive conduct.” If they make good their threats and boycott the vote then this will give the pro Gantz faction an opportunity to dominate key committees. With 61 members supporting it, the Blue and White party is already assured of obtaining the speakers position.

Time is Running Out

Gantz has only three weeks remaining to form a government. In recognition of the task that lies ahead of him he recently said, “Since I received the mandate to form a government I have been working  exactly as I promised  to form a wide, stable and statesmanlike government that will know how to deal with the great challenge before us.”

However these efforts are being hampered by the decision of most of his party members and other factions within his blocs not to participate in any government that would involve the Arab Joint List.