We keep being told that the formation of an emergency unity government is just around the corner. But as of the time of this writing, that corner has not been reached. While Blue and White is quite eager to sign the agreement as soon as possible, the Likud appears to be taking its time.
I admit that my lack of trust in Benjamin Netanyahu leads me to suspect that the main reason for his elusive conduct is the result of his desire to take his final decision on whether to sign the agreement after Benny Gantz's time to form a government runs out next week.
This is largely because he apparently believes that while Gantz has no option except to join a unity government, Netanyahu still has the option to form a narrow government with the support of Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abecassis and former Telem members Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser.
In light of the difficulties he is facing in his own party, and with his three religious partners to receive their blessing for the unity government, one can understand why Netanyahu wants to keep open the option - real or imaginary - of forming a narrow government for as long as possible.
The problems that Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina have with the unity government is primarily that there are only 15-17 ministerial posts for them to share among themselves.The issue of the immediate annexation of the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria under the umbrella of the Trump administration, which was promised by Netanyahu during the last election campaign, is also one that concerns Netanyahu, and at least some of his partners. Blue and White is ambivalent on this issue, and feels that a unilateral annexation at this juncture is politically unwise.
I shall be very happy if my suspicions prove to be wrong, and that the delays in the formation of the government are caused exclusively for reasonable, objective reasons. I shall also give Netanyahu all the credit due to him if the unity government will actually come into being and start operating smoothly. This in itself will not exonerate him in my eyes from the criminal charges brought against him unless a court will find him innocent. It will not convince me to accept his theory that what is weakening the pillars of the Israeli democracy today is a "liberal conspiracy" that is acting tirelessly to defeat the wishes of the (Jewish) majority while he is weakening Israel's democracy through systematic attacks on the gatekeepers, the law enforcement system and the Knesset's ability to work effectively.
With regard to a unity government, there is no doubt that both sides will have to swallow many frogs to enable its creation. But the one element that I believe both the Likud and Blue and White ought agree upon is that Ya’acov Litzman from UTJ must be removed from the Health Ministry. It is unreasonable and unacceptable that Israel should have a health minister who openly states that the corona pandemic can be warded off by means of prayer, and that very soon the Messiah will arrive and save us (I heard him say so with my own two ears). To add insult to injury, Litzman has been infected by the virus after failing to follow the instructions that his own ministry issued on how to avoid infection and not spread the virus.
RATHER THAN make sure the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, which he represents, is made aware of those instructions by means of their unique system of communication, for several weeks he was busy trying to exempt the synagogues, minyanim (prayer quorums), yeshivot and mikvaot (ritual baths) from some of those same instructions. We now know in retrospect that those places and gatherings increased the spread of the coronavirus in haredi neighborhoods to worrying dimensions. But Litzman does not want to part with the Health Ministry. And Netanyahu seems more concerned with keeping his bloc of 59 together than with Israel's urgent need for a worthy head for the Ministry. What is needed is someone with exceptional administrative capabilities and understanding in health issues and economics. It doesn't really matter what party he or she belongs to, and there is really no objection to this person being religious, as long as they are qualified - which Litzman is not. No one knows exactly what the world will look like after the coronavirus is finally brought under control. There is no doubt that we shall all be more sensitive than before to issues of hygiene and sanitation. We shall all be much more sensitive to questions of social and economic security, and keeping social and welfare services under much tighter public management and control. No doubt, certain aspects of social democracy will gain public support, while neoliberalism will lose some of its glamour.I sincerely hope that the major part played by Israel's Arab population in coping with the crisis will also leave its mark. Most of the pharmacists and other employees in my local branch of Super-Pharm, and of the management and employees in my local branch of Shufersal, are Arabs. So are the street cleaners and garbage collectors, the person who delivers my newspaper every morning, and the staff members who treated me at Shaare Zedek Hospital the other day. In other words, most of the people I encounter these days, and who make my life more comfortable and tolerable, besides my neighbors who prefer WhatsApp messages to face-to-face contact even on normal days, are Arabs. And they are not terrorists planning to destroy Israel or the prime minister, who lives just over a kilometer away.
There is no doubt that the lives of the haredi community will undergo even greater change than the rest of us. Bnei Brak invited two retired IDF generals to help them run their city in the impossible situation created as a result of the health crisis, and thousands of soldiers from elite units are to be sent to Bnei Brak to assist the population. These are earth-shaking events whose long-term ramifications are difficult to predict. There is also no doubt that parts of the haredi community face a major leadership crisis.In the first stages of the epidemic, the
traditional rabbinical leadership misguided its followers and had no practical remedies to offer. Will this change of attitudes toward the state lead to greater integration of haredim into general society? Will there be some change in the approach to large families living under conditions of great crowding and poverty that have worsened the epidemic, and in some cases, become death traps? The future will tell. In the meantime, we need a proper government to take over from three successive transition governments; one that will at least bring some responsibility and normalcy to the way we are governed.