What’s worse: New elections or a broken government? - analysis

A dysfunctional government dominated by two parties or the realization that the rhetoric of the campaign will once again further divide an already badly divided nation?

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset back in May. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset back in May.
(photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/FLASH90)
The current political drama unfolding regarding whether or not there will be new elections has many Israelis torn.
On the one hand they are rooting for new elections because it will put an end to a dysfunctional government dominated by two parties – Likud and Blue and White – plagued by a complete lack of trust and respect one for each other, and which, during the coronavirus crisis, have shown a sad inability to work together.
Yet on the other hand, many Israelis want to see new elections avoided because of the price (an estimated NIS 3.2 billion poured down the election drain for the fourth time in two years); the realization that the rhetoric of the campaign will once again further divide an already badly divided nation; and the fear that this election could quite possibly end up as inconclusive as the previous three.
The best example of the complete lack of trust was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failing to inform Defense Minister and Blue and White head Benny Gantz of his appointment of a new Mossad head earlier this month, and his keeping Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi completely out of the loop regarding historic peace accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
The lack of trust and respect running in the other direction, from Gantz to Netanyahu, was evident in Gantz’s decision last month to establish a committee to investigate the so-called “Submarine Affair,” which is expected to look into whether Netanyahu gave a green light to a German firm to sell submarines to Egypt. None of this bespeaks of a smooth, trusting, working relationship.
Netanyahu – whose failure to agree to a two-year budget as spelled out in the coalition agreement seemed designed to preserve a way out of having to hand the premiership to Gantz in November by going to early elections before then – does not want those elections now.
“I am still making a strong effort to prevent elections, because at this time, when we are concerned about a [new] mutation [of the coronavirus], the last thing we need is an election,” he said Sunday, explaining why he was in favor of a bill allowing for a week-long extension of the budget deadline that would give him more time to negotiate with Gantz about a way out of calling new elections in March.
As if the government as it is currently constituted would have any more success fighting the new mutation of the coronavirus than it has had fighting the original form of the virus – a fight harmed by the politicization of so many decisions.
Gantz himself wrote on his Facebook page just over two weeks ago, “Elections aren’t the right thing for the country, but they’re better than a paralyzed government and politicized management of a massive health and economic crisis.”
If Netanyahu and Gantz manage to reach some kind of compromise agreement whereby the government does not fall on Tuesday evening – an agreement whereby Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s wings are clipped, and Netanyahu promises to go through with the rotation – does anyone really think that bygones will be bygones, the government paralysis will end, or there will be an end to a politicized management of the corona crisis?
Efforts now to push off new elections are just delaying the inevitable, like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. That band-aid won’t stop the bleeding, and because a band-aid – rather than a tourniquet – was administered, the patient, in this case the country, will suffer.
Few believe that even if elections are pushed off, the government will last until the rotation date in November. Then why the charade? Who benefits?
Simple – both Gantz and Netanyahu benefit. Gideon Sa’ar reshuffled the political deck two weeks ago when he announced that he was leaving the Likud and starting his own party. Almost overnight that party catapulted to second place in the polls, after Likud, and has stayed there consistently.
The timing of Sa’ar’s announcement seemed puzzling, coming as it did after Gantz voted in the Knesset’s preliminary reading to dissolve the Knesset, but before the parliamentary process was concluded and new elections were actually called.
Sa’ar’s strong poll numbers after his dramatic announcement proved an incentive for Gantz and Netanyahu to try to resolve their differences and push off elections, as the polls indicated that Sa’ar’s party would be politically detrimental to them both.
For Netanyahu, Sa’ar’s entrance – according to the polls – gave the “anyone but Bibi” bloc a majority in the Knesset. And for Gantz, Sa’ar’s party would knock Blue and White to six or even just five seats, just above the 3.25% electoral threshold.
So even though both Netanyahu and Gantz might say that with a new, more dangerous strain of corona lurking around the corner, this is not the time for an election, this is also true for reasons of pure political survival.
But why did Sa’ar make his announcement when he did, before new elections were actually called? By doing so he gave Netanyahu and Gantz ample time and reason to change course.
A couple of reasons have been proffered for Sa’ar’s odd timing, ranging from just being fed up with shabby treatment at the hands of Netanyahu; to wanting to take momentum away from Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, who was climbing in the polls and seemingly solidifying his position as Netanyahu’s challenger; to just jumping the gun in a major miscalculation about how serious Gantz was in bringing down the government.
Whatever the reason, the end result is that Sa’ar is driving both Gantz and Netanyahu to look for a way out of new elections.
Netanyahu is uninterested in an election right now because he would like to buy time, hoping that the COVID-19 vaccine kicks in and that some of the public’s anger over the pandemic will dissipate later next year when he would like new elections to be held.
And Gantz has absolutely nothing to gain politically from going to elections now, except for being seen as a man who actually acts on what he says: the underlying theme of his dramatic speech announcing that he would vote to dissolve the Knesset was that the country deserves a better government than the one it has.
But if the government does fall, Gantz’s political career will be all but over, with Blue and White perhaps just squeaking into the Knesset.
If the government doesn’t fall, however, Gantz remains defense minister, not a inconsequential position, and he could theoretically leave a mark, though up until now he has not had much of an impact in that role. There is also the remote chance that he may actually become prime minister in November if the rotation miraculously takes place – which is something that will be way out of his grasp if new elections are called now.
So pushing off new elections at this time is good politically for Netanyahu and Gantz. But is it good for the country? If this government could not function since it was sworn in seven months ago – and neither have the personalities changed nor the animosity and resentment between the parties and their leaders disappeared – then why think that it will change going forward?
Or, as Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh tweeted on Monday, “Responsibility to Israel’s citizens led me to support entry into this unity government. This same responsibility demands weighing the bad option of elections against a worse option of continued dysfunctional conduct,” she tweeted. “It is time to return to the Israeli public, the sovereign of democracy.”