The New Government Agreement in Israel

Commentary: According to the deal signed, Gantz will replace Netanyahu as prime minister in 18 months' time. Are we sure, however, that there will be no impediment?

Photo: Reuters

"Bibi" Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, will remain in post for another 18 months.  
 
All this happens while "Benny" Gantz - former Chief of Staff of Tsahal from February 2011 to February 2015, and son of a Jewish woman who escaped from the Bergen Belsen concentration camp and survived the Holocaust - will start off by serving as deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister in the next Israeli government.
 
Based on the deal signed, he will later take over as Prime Minister in October 2021 for another 18 months.
    
Binyamin Gantz graduated from Bahad 1, the Israeli Officer School of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and was made a company commander in the Paratrooper Brigade. He rose steadily through the ranks and led several military structures, including the Shaldag Special Air Force Unit, the Judea and Samaria Division, as well as the Northern Command. He graduated in History from the University of Tel Aviv and got a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Haifa, as well as a Master's degree in national resource management from the U.S. National Defense University.
 
In modern times, the great statesmen were often also -  and above all - great military leaders: just think of Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill or even an extraordinary figure like General Marshall, the theorist of the post-war economic plan for Europe named after him. After retiring from the Army, Gantz founded the Pnima movement along with other colleagues.
 
The Pnima executives include Rabbi Shai Piron, as well as many former generals of Tsahal, senior officers, magistrates and important businessmen.
 
In 2018, Gantz ran for the first time for a seat at the Knesset, with an alliance named Hosen L'Ysrael, literally "Israel Resilience". 
 
The current government deal signed between Netanyahu and Gantz provides for an accurate 50% division of government positions between the two sides, namely Gantz's new Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu's Likud parties.
 
Gantz' alliance can also count on the often vociferous Labour Party as an ally.
 
Gantz has also announced that it will appoint an Arab Israeli, not member of the Knesset, as Minister and that, however, he will not appoint any vice-Ministers.
 
The Likud Party has been assigned the post of Speaker of the Knesset, that will most likely be taken over by Yariv Levin, a man who has always been very close to Netanyahu.
 
Furthermore, based on the government deal signed, Netanyahu himself has the right to appoint four Ambassadors to important Missions and positions. Probably these new diplomats will be above all important members of the Likud Party and the posts already envisaged by Netanyahu in the deal signed with Gantz could be the Israeli Ambassadors to the United Nations, Great Britain, France and Australia.
 
Each of the two signatories of the government deal will have the Chairmanship of seven Knesset Parliamentary Committees.
 
The so-called 'Norwegian law' will continue to apply, It is a law which enables Ministers, deputy Ministers and government members to quit the Knesset, thus enabling the next candidates on their party’s list to enter, but permits them to return to the legislature if they quit the government.
 
Five members of Gantz’s coalition, Kahol Lavan, and only two members of the Likud party are expected to resign in line with this "Norwegian law".
 
So far, however, Gantz's Parliamentary group has not liked the deal with Netanyahu at all.
 
Gantz himself said that some of his colleagues would "prefer a fourth election rather than a compromise deal". This applies to two of his important members of Parliament, namely Yair Lapid, former founder and leader of Yesh Atid, the "Blue and White" Alliance, and Moshe Ya'alon, former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces. 
 
Another bilateral agreement reached by the two leaders is that no legislation unrelated to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic will be brought before Parliament for a period of six months without full agreement between the two political groups. 
 
For his part, Netanyahu will anyway be allowed to advance legislation to annex Jewish settlements and other land in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians already consider part of a future State, in line with the peace plan unveiled by U.S: President Trump last January. 
 
Therefore, Gantz has already lost a good number of his supporters, within his party and his coalition, former militants and parliamentarians who do not accept any deal with Netanyahu that they believe is only aimed at temporarily sparing the Likud leader the experience of a trial that is expected to be long and far from easy for "Bibi" Netanyahu. 
 
Gantz maintains, instead, that in very difficult times, with a pandemic already hitting the Jewish State, it is necessary to be united, even with the Likud leader, and immediately give Israel a new government in full swing.
 
The U.S. Ambassador to Israel has already said he is "delighted" by the agreement between the two leaders, while the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, spoke of an Israeli government devoted solely to the annexation of the aforementioned West Bank’s territories. 
 
Netanyahu, however, has stated he will propose legislation for the annexation of the West Bank as of June 1, 2020, but only if there is explicit support from the U.S. Administration.
  
A clear result reached is that Netanyahu will easily have the possibility to postpone the next Court hearings. 
 
His trial, however, will start officially on May 24, 2020.
 
The current Public Prosecutor will remain in office only for the next six months.   
 
The judges have already agreed with the government that there will be no major events during the coronavirus pandemic. 
 
Furthermore, again based on the government deal signed, Netanyahu will be entitled to an official residence as Prime Minister.
 
It should be recalled that Gantz broke the unity of his "Blue and White" coalition to propose a government deal to the Likud leader, mainly based on the need to curb the pandemic and put an end to the sequence of inconclusive elections - three in a very short lapse of time - which would never lead to a clear winner.
 
But it was precisely Gantz who run his last election campaign in March on the very issue of Netanyahu's definitive exclusion from power. 
 
Furthermore, "Bibi" Netanyahu has largely stopped even the legislation designed to improving Israelis’ protection from the coronavirus pandemic, since he has never asked for the creation of a real majority at the Knesset
 
Again based on the government deal signed, the next six months will be fully devoted to the legislation designed to tackling the coronavirus pandemics, while any other political issue to be submitted to Parliament will require a prior agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu.  
 
Some people - even in the media circles that are the most polemical in attacking him - have said that, despite the loss of some support within his coalition, Gantz has anyway shown strong leadership, which is particularly appreciated by the Israeli voters.
 
According to the deal signed, Gantz will replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 18 months’ time. 
 
Are we sure, however, that there will be no impediment? Possibly a law to be voted immediately before the change in Premiership - of which later the opponent may be accused on grounds of dirty play and moves within the Knesset? Or a Parliamentary conflict on some issues, which is always possible?  
 
Or again the pressure of left-wing voters within Gantz’s coalition, precisely pushing him to leave the alliance? No one can currently predict it.
 
As already mentioned, in the next government, Gantz's allies will have the Foreign and the Justice Ministries, while Netanyahu’s party will have the Finance Ministry and the post of Speaker of the Knesset
 
Obviously "Bibi" Netanyahu’s politicking experience cannot be compared with Gantz’s. The latter has just been elected and has no strong base in Parliament. Hence the maneuvering ability of the Likud leader will likely be much greater than the ability of the former opposition leader, while the coalition created by Gantz is, in fact, in a phase of internal breakup. 
 
However, the date of trial for the current Likud leader is certain, namely May 24, 2020. 
  
Nevertheless, although Netanyahu has ultimately not managed to pass legislation protecting him from criminal proceedings, he is still indirectly very powerful, also as far as the judiciary is concerned. 
 
Again based on the deal signed with Gantz, he has the possibility of vetoing the appointment of the next Attorney General and of the Public Prosecutor, and can also choose half of the members of the Parliamentary technical committee that selects judges.   
 
Has "Bibi" already won? We cannot predict it yet. Probably, his heaviest card will still be the annexation of some areas of the West Bank areas and - as he said during his election campaign - also of the Jordan Valley.
 
It is also likely that, once the trial pressure on Netanyahu has eased, the government may even be able to go on peacefully. 
 
Clearly all the thoughts of the Likud leader are focused on the issue of his judicial future. 
 
Polls show that the citizens are happy to finally have a government, but there are subtle signs of rejection of the unusual large size of government, with 32 Ministers that will increase to 36, and 16 deputy Ministers - a huge government that is unprecedented in Israel’s history. 
 
It should be recalled that, when Gantz started negotiations with Netanyahu, he had been recommended and then almost appointed as Prime Minister by 61 of the 120 members of the Knesset, and he himself was the leader of a coalition made up of 33 MPs. 
 
Now that he is only the opposition leader, Gantz - who has been left alone by some of his supporters, such as Ya'alom and Lapid - has a party of his own that counts only 15 MPs.  
 
He enjoys the support of two Labour activists, namely Amir Peretz and Itzhik Shmuli, although we do not know to what extent this support is stable. Nevertheless, there is not yet any clear definition of "equal representation" between Gantz’s and Netanyahu’s teams - equality to which, however, reference is often made in the deal. 
 
Furthermore, if Netanyahu is found guilty, new elections are the only solution envisaged by the deal. 
 
We can also wonder what would happen if the criminal Court extended its proceedings beyond 18 months. No one knows.  
 
Moreover, if the Likud leader does not want to hand over power at the end of the 18 months, he could always call new elections. He can do so. 
 
Again based on the deal, however, in this case Gantz would immediately become Prime Minister and keep his post for only three months. The procedure, however, shows great signs of unconstitutionality. 
 
There is also the issue of the 1,800,000 Israeli Arabs who have the right to vote, and could even be sensitive to Netanyahu’ sirens. Netanyahu is the only one who could alone silence the religious parties that have always supported him and could still support him, if the Likud leader widened his government basis, with one of his maneuvers, possibly even supporting an economic agreement favorable to a part of the Arab voters in Israel.
 
Furthermore, it is good to see how the tension on the figure of Netanyahu will be able to mobilize both the religious parties and the political area that has always supported the Likud party and could probably be gathered again by somebody linked to Netanyahu and acting in his name.
 
It is therefore a complex agreement, much of which will be decided by the quality of the legislation designed to fight against the coronavirus pandemic and by both signatories’ Parliamentary politicking.
 
 
Professor Valori is President of the International World Group
 

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