In limbo, on the brink of war and eyeing the Eurovision - analysis

Ministers have serious strategic and moral questions on their minds, but do they have a mandate to act as an interim government?

An artistic projection of the 2019 Eurovision stage in Tel Aviv (photo credit: KAN)
An artistic projection of the 2019 Eurovision stage in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: KAN)
The latest assault by Gazan terrorists on Israel came at a strange time, politically.
It’s clear that the timing was influenced by the upcoming Independence Day celebrations and, even more so, by next week’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, with Palestinian Islamic Jihad escalating the situation on Saturday by shooting at IDF soldiers, and explicitly threatening the international musical extravaganza.
It’s funny – in a gallows-humor type way – to recall that six months ago, political commentators were predicting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would try to call an election for the end of May, so that he would ride high in the polls on the joy and national pride of the two big events. The way things look now, it’s lucky for him that he moved up the schedule.
In a bizarre way, the Eurovision seems to have turned into a consideration in the Security Cabinet’s deliberations as to how to respond.
The statement they released after their five-hour meeting was that they “instructed the IDF to continue attacks and prepare for the continuation. The highest consideration is the security of the state and its inhabitants.”
But it’s hard to believe that the major international cultural event wasn’t on the ministers’ minds. Dozens of performers from across Europe and beyond have already arrived, and Madonna is expected to perform. If Hamas could spoil the show, it would hurt Israel’s international cultural cachet and the growing number of tourists in recent years. It would be a victory for terrorism in the purest sense, in that terrorism seeks not only to kill, but to sow fear and disrupt its target’s way of life.
Still, when there have already been four civilian deaths in a day and a half of rocket fire – at the time of this writing – one has to wonder if there is a justification for considerations of culture and morale to take precedent over human life. Does “the show must go on” mean that one million civilians have to constantly run to bomb shelters? It’s a moral question, and it’s one the ministers in the Security Cabinet must ask themselves.
Then, there’s the tricky political and legal situation. The Security Cabinet is made up of ministers in an interim government.
According to past Supreme Court rulings, an interim government should act “with restraint in using its authority for all matters that are not necessary or have special urgency.” One could question why, if there have been so many rounds of rocket onslaughts in the past – including ahead of the election and in November – would an interim government have to take special action this time.
Politically, this government no longer has a mandate. While Netanyahu will presumably remain prime minister and hopes to forge a coalition similar to the last one, at least two Security Cabinet ministers – Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – have been voted out of the Knesset. And it is likely there will be further reshuffling.
But the next coalition is not just waiting in the wings to be sworn in. Not a single party has signed on yet.
The political situation has little to do with the latest assault by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s impact on coalition talks. Thus far, its impact has been minimal.
Netanyahu held a secret, one-on-one, two-hour meeting with MK Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the National Union Party within the Union of Right-wing Parties (URP) about coalition matters. A planned meeting between Likud and URP negotiating teams was postponed from Sunday to Monday, and Likud plans to meet with United Torah Judaism’s negotiators immediately after that.
The only player in the talks that the latest round in the endless Gaza rocket saga could really sway is Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who resigned from the Defense Ministry in November allegedly because he was overruled in the Security Cabinet when he advocated for a more robust response to Hamas terrorism.
Entering a government after Netanyahu repeated the exact pattern that led Liberman to resign in protest would not look great for him. And one of Yisrael Beytenu’s demands in coalition talks is to include toppling Hamas in the next government’s guidelines – though bombastic statements in the guidelines are worth about as much as the paper on which they are written.
Despite all that, a political insider said that the current situation is unlikely to impact Liberman’s decision. The bigger issue for Yisrael Beytenu is still the matter of religion and state. The five-seat party is demanding to stop further stringencies, versus the 16 haredi seats plus six more from URP, which is likely to support almost any religious concession the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) demand.
That gets rid of at least one outside consideration for the Security Cabinet when it’s deciding how to respond to the current record-breaking rocket barrage.
But the ministers in the Security Cabinet are stuck in limbo: on the brink of war and eyeing the Eurovision.