by: Ilse Strauss
Friday, 27 March 2020 | In a dramatic about-face that sent shockwaves through the Israeli political sphere, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz announced yesterday that he will side with the Likud-led right-wing bloc and partner with his main political rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to form a unity government.
After more than a year without a functioning government, three national elections in less than 12 months and what seemed like a never-ending stalemate between Netanyahu and Gantz, the political deadlock has shattered.
Ironically, it took a global pandemic—and more importantly, the need to curb its spread—to do what repeated trips to the polls and fruitless negotiations could not. In what Israeli media dubbed the “corona coalition,” Netanyahu is set to remain in office for another 18 months, while Gantz will throw his weight—and Knesset (Parliament) seats—behind the Netanyahu-led government and take over the premiership in September 2021.
The terms of the unity government deal are still being hammered out. However, Israeli media reports that the partnership will likely entail a rotating agreement with Netanyahu serving as prime minister and Gantz as deputy prime minister and defense minister for 18 months, before the latter steps in to lead the country for the remainder of the term.
“This is not the time for fighting and splits,” Gantz told his fellow lawmakers in the Knesset last night. “This is a time for responsible statesmanship, patriotism and leadership.”
Gantz also issued a clarion call to the people of Israel: “Let’s join hands and lead Israel out of this crisis.”
Yesterday’s U-turn saw the former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff walk away from his stance that he would under no circumstances serve as co-leader alongside Netanyahu and discard his Blue and White partners, collapsing the party and breaking up the centralist bloc.
Following its collapse, the three parties that comprised Blue and White—Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem—scattered in different directions. Gantz will bring the seats held by Israel Resilience into the Netanyahu-led government, while the other two are preparing to sit in the government opposition.
According to Gantz, the urgency of curbing the COVID-19 coronavirus prompted the two bitter rivals to put their enmity aside to face the invisible enemy threatening Israel and the rest of the world as a united front. However, his Yesh Atid and Telem partners were set against such a partnership with Netanyahu’s Likud party, resulting in the parting of ways.
Addressing his former partners who are fuming at what they decry as anything from a sellout to a bitter betraying, Gantz tweeted: “At the end of the day, I believe we must not drag Israel to a fourth election at such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and its fallout. We disagree on that point.”
Over the past year, Israel has gone through the political wringer, facing several surprise twists and turns, bitter disagreement, a steadfast stalemate, three trips to the polls and a number of unsuccessful attempts by both Netanyahu and Gantz to form a coalition. However, even in the midst of the political and COVID-19-related upheaval, the past week proved particularly eventful—and decisive.
In third round of elections on March 2, Netanyahu’s Likud party received a three-seat majority over Blue and White at 36 to 33. Netanyahu also managed to stitch together a right-wing bloc of 58 seats, compared to Gantz’s centralist bloc of 46. However, in a near repeat of the previous two elections, neither party had a clear path to secure the required 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
However, in a twist, 61 Knesset members recommended Gantz as their pick for prime minister, resulting in President Reuven Rivlin handing the mandate to form a government to the Blue and White party chief. While Gantz in theory had a 61-seat backing, forming an actual coalition remained impossible. Fifteen of the 61 voices saying yes to Gantz belonged to the Joint List of mostly Arab parties, many of whom indicated that they merely backed Gantz to oust Netanyahu and would not join a Gantz-led government.
The final, eventful week that would break Israel’s political stalemate saw Blue and White leveraging Joint List backing in an attempt to wangle control of the Knesset, trying to pass a number of bills that would block any chance Netanyahu would have of forming a government or serving as prime minister. The week progressed with a Blue and White attempt to oust Likud member and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who stood between them and the bills passing, and a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court forcing Edelstein to resign rather than bow to Blue and White’s bullying tactics. Finally, two Blue and White members threatened to shift their support to Netanyahu’s camp over Gantz’s refusal to form a unity government during such critical times. Tensions within the Blue and White leadership camp continued to mount to breaking point, resulting in the biggest fallout in the party’s short history.
Hours later Gantz made the decision he had been avoiding for nearly a year—and Israel was on its way to a fully functioning unity government. As part of the emerging unity deal, an overwhelming majority of the right-wing bloc elected Gantz as the temporary Knesset speaker. Once the unity deal is inked, Gantz will reportedly resign the speakership and the position will once again go to a member of Likud, most probably Edelstein.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the unity government will be a partnership of Likud, Israel Resilience, Labor, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism, and will comprise up to 79 seats.
As Israel prepares for the start of the Sabbath at sunset, talks are ongoing. We invite our readers around the world to pray for Netanyahu, Gantz and the rest of Israel’s lawmakers as they put together the next government to lead the Jewish state.
Posted on March 27, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, March 27, 2020)
Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces/Yehudah Gross/flickr.com
Photo License: flickr.com
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