So, Israel finally has a government, and everyone's sighing in relief. But will it last? LISTEN to Binyamin Rose's take
The Morning After
- Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are breathing a sigh of relief today — assuming, of course, they can inhale and exhale freely while wearing masks. Most Israelis are also breathing a collective sigh of relief, knowing we have been spared a fourth election now that the Supreme Court voted unanimously to allow Netanyahu to remain prime minister and build a new coalition even though he is under criminal indictment.
- Israeli law requires the removal of a cabinet minister under indictment, but in dismissing petitions filed against Netanyahu, the court declined to interpret that law more expansively and apply it to a prime minister.
- The court did raise objections to a handful of specific clauses in the coalition agreement, sending Netanyahu and Gantz scrambling to revise their deal even before the court ruled. The changes are relatively minor and technical, compared to the big picture. So for now, let’s focus on that big picture, summing up the composition of the next government and how effective it may be:
- Israel’s new coalition will be sworn into office next Wednesday, without fireworks, a day after Lag b’Omer, which this year will be held without bonfires.
- The coalition will consist of at least 72 members, and perhaps 78 if Netanyahu comes to terms with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party in the next few days.
- Netanyahu’s Likud will hold 36 seats or about half of the coalition, but Gantz’s faction will control more cabinet ministries than the Likud. Gantz will have at least equal control, if not more, of the Knesset agenda.
- Bibi will remain prime minister. Gantz will serve as his deputy. In 18 months, they will reverse roles and Netanyahu will play second fiddle to Gantz.
- The chareidi parties maintained their clout and will be important coalition partners. Shas has nine seats. UTJ holds seven.
- The only major shakeup involves Yaakov Litzman, who will no longer be the minister of health – a thankless job in the coronavirus era. Litzman is slated for the ministry of housing, a thankless job in almost any era. Israel may be a land flowing with milk and honey, but housing projects get stuck in concrete for years. Good luck, Chaver Knesset Litzman. You will need it.
A Broad Coalition
- Overall, the new coalition will be much broader than the three narrow governments Netanyahu presided over since 2009. Aside from Gantz’s 15 member faction, it will include 2 former members of his faction who are more right-wing than Gantz, and a trio of from the labor party, who climbed on the bandwagon once Gantz gave his hechsher to Netanyahu.
- If you ask me, this broad participation is the main reason why the Supreme Court kept their hands off this agreement, at least for now.
- The Supreme court has a well-deserved reputation for — shall we say, originality — when it comes to rulings that conform to a liberal worldview rooted in the 1960s. If Bibi succeeded in rebuilding his narrow, right-wing coalition, I believe the court would have scoured for the legal grounds to justify overruling the pact. But the new coalition represents the will of more than 3 million of the 4 1/2 million Israelis who cast their votes in the march election. Had the court forced Israel to a fourth election, polls indicated the right-wing would win a convincing victory, giving them a large enough majority to pass a law cutting the Supreme Court’s power down to size. The justices instinct for self-preservation kept their fingers off the trigger.
The main question on everybody’s minds is how long will this new government last?
- You can ask that question of almost every Israeli government that has an average shelf life of about 2 ½ years. But now, considering how much dust got kicked up in the last three campaigns, can Netanyahu and Gant, and the Likud and Blue and White, overcome all the bad blood and mutual distrust to work together?
- The naysayers contend all you have to do is look at the way the deal was written. It contains 14 pages that covers every suspicion and every possible contingency that either side could use to cheat on the deal.
- Well, to me, that’s a positive sign. And it gives me reason to believe this government might have more longevity than most people think, or that even i originally thought.
- One of the pithy sayings i learned during my years as a financial consultant and money manager was “watch your downside. The upside will take care of itself." We’ve experienced that vividly in March, when one bad month in the stock market wiped out years of gains. It’s like going on a boat for a sea cruise. You go because you expect to have a good time, but you have to wear a life jacket in case the boat springs a leak.
- It’s the leaky ship that the lawyers who negotiated the new coalition agreement kept in mind. You’re not being a pessimist when you consider everything that could possibly go wrong. You’re being a realist. The more protection written into the deal, the more guidelines you have to fall back on in case something goes wrong.
- There will be turmoil and drama that plagues the new government. Part of that is due to the makeup of the coalition, but a big part is because the anti-Bibi forces, who the Supreme Court threw overboard, have not given up trying to sink the ship. They have promised more demonstrations against the new government and endless new appeals to the supreme court.
- So while the political waves will remain choppy, there are seasoned sailors steering the ship, and each side has a lot to lose from a shipwreck. For Gantz, the deal ensures — at least in writing — that he will become prime minister in 18 months. There’s little chance of that happening if he has to run in a new election. For Netanyahu, charting the course as prime minister gives him more leeway to keep his legal troubles at bay. That task becomes much harder if this new coalition breaks up and he has to face the voters once again – and perhaps revisit the Supreme Court.
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