Sadly, leadership crisis likely to outlive the coronavirus – analysis

Two crises; two graphs. One graph – the one dealing with the health crisis – is flattening out. The second graph – the one charting the leadership crisis – is not.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is currently facing two crises.
The first, in common with the rest of the world, is the coronavirus. While stiff regulations are still in place, and as the country is still essentially in a lock-down, there are indications that the situation is improving. Some officials are even openly talking about an exit strategy, the first stages of which might be implemented as early as Sunday.
The second crisis is a leadership one – and that is a crisis which is not going to disappear, regardless of whether Likud and Blue and White resolve all of their differences and are able to form a government before Monday’s midnight deadline set by President Reuven Rivlin. And if they don't do so, Rivlin will throw the whole coalition mess to the Knesset, and the country could unbelievably find itself on a trajectory toward a fourth election.
And what makes that trajectory so unbelievable, is that the squandering of hundreds of millions of shekels on a fourth election would come as millions of citizens will be trying to recover financially from the economic devastation the virus has left in its wake. Talk about being tone deaf.
Two crises; two graphs. One graph – the one dealing with the health crisis – is flattening out. The second graph – the one charting the leadership crisis – is not.
Even if a government is mercifully formed, it will take a long time for the leaders of all the parties – Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman – to regain the confidence of a public that watched them fiddle as the coronavirus tore through the country.
Gantz alone proved that he realized the magnitude of the crisis when he was willing to backtrack on one of his main election promises – not to join a government with Netanyahu – and to break up his party, because he realized that the moment demanded an emergency government. Yet that government, incredibly, still tarries.
The public again proved itself better over the last few weeks than its leaders.
The public, for the most part, heeded the rules and regulations, dramatically and fundamentally altered its lifestyle, did what it was told – and in the process, protected Israel’s health system, keeping the country from going the way of Italy, Spain, France and the United States.
And the leaders? First of all, in acts stunningly obtuse, Netanyahu, Rivlin and Liberman sat down at their Seder meals last Wednesday night with family members who don't live with them, even as government officials told the public not to do so, and levied fines on those who tried.
The jarring message this sent to the public was that there is one set of rules for the governed, and an entirely different set for the governing. With difficult days ahead when the public will be asked to sacrifice for the greater good, that is one toxic message for leaders to send. Why trust the leaders? Why do as they say, when they themselves don't follow the regulations?
And even as the public was largely following orders necessitated by the health emergency, the country's political leadership class could not even get it together to form an emergency government.
Israel was facing its most serious challenge since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and its leaders – from Netanyahu, who is running political circles around Gantz; to Moshe Ya'alon, whose anti-Netanyahu obsession is blinding him to what the country really needs right now; to Liberman, whose behavior over the last year remains inexplicable – could not form an emergency government to deal with a real-life emergency.
Soldiers – thank God – are not dying on the battlefield, and the death toll from the coronavirus, though dreadful, is not as staggering as at first feared. But a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, businesses are being destroyed, and savings are being emptied out. This is an emergency.
A government needs to be formed so that a coronavirus cabinet can be established and a way out of the economic distress that the virus has caused can be charted. And this exit strategy needs to have as many people from across the political spectrum on board as possible. Dramatic decisions will need to be taken. Sacrifices by all will need to be made to get the economy back on track. And this can only be done if the country trusts its leaders and believes they are acting in its best interests.
And while the nation’s leaders may have taken some wise steps during the crisis to enable Israel to dodge some of the worst that the corona could have delivered, the country's trust in its leaders has taken a beating because those leaders have simply been unable to rise above themselves and their political interests.
The issue of extending sovereignty over Judea and Samaria is an important issue, as is the issue of the future makeup of the Supreme Court – two issues that reportedly have delayed the formation of a Netanyahu-Gantz emergency government. These are important issues; cardinal issues. Perhaps, in normal times, the most important issues facing the country.
But these are not normal times, and those issues – as critical as they are – can wait for another day.
To those who argue that the sovereignty issue actually cannot wait because it depends on US President Donald Trump remaining in office, and he may very well be voted out in another six months, the reply is that Israel's leaders have only themselves to blame for that clock running out: they wasted a year-and-a-half under Trump by going to three elections and still failing to form a government able to make strategic decisions of great consequence.
Why? Because of a failure of leadership – a crisis that, unfortunately, is likely to remain even after the worst of the coronavirus is behind us.