Amid coronavirus-fueled crises, the government remains dysfunctional

The welcome achievement of the normalization treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could be stymied because of the fractured nature of the government.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz – a table apart. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz – a table apart.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The weekly cabinet meeting did not take place yesterday. And that is worthy of comment. This is the fourth week in a row that the government has not even been able to agree about having the meeting. In other words, it is dysfunctional –  and is not even going through the motions.
This would be very bad news at any time, let alone in the current situation. The coronavirus figures continue to rise; the country’s children are meant to return to kindergartens and schools tomorrow, with the health, financial and logistical challenges that involves; the government barely agreed to disagree on a budget, putting off the vote on the budget for this year – 2020 – until December; the “fire intifada” continues to rage in the South, with scores of balloons and kites attached to incendiary devices being sent from Gaza – and succeeding – to destroy Israeli fields, nature reserves and endanger lives; there has also been sporadic rocket fire from Gaza; and the tension on the Northern border has increased, as evidenced by Hezbollah’s recent efforts to harm IDF soldiers there.
This is all in addition to the ongoing economic crisis caused by measures to control coronavirus, which have brought about high unemployment and growing socioeconomic gaps. And to this already difficult situation should be added the government’s poor relationship with coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who last week threatened to quit his post unless he is given the tools and authority to carry out his job. Although the smaller Corona Cabinet has been meeting, the implementation of its decisions has also been hampered by narrow political concerns.
When the country’s 35th government was formed in May, after three rounds of elections within a year, it was given the official title: “An emergency unity government of national conciliation.” There was some room to hope that both major parties – Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White under Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz – would set aside their personal animosity and political rivalry, and act together for the good of the country, which was going through an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic.
 Although neither side was fully satisfied with the arrangement, citizens on both the Left and Right let out a figurative sigh of relief, hoping that the elected leaders had finally returned to their senses and agreed to put national good above personal feelings, and that they would work together. So far they are barely working at all – and certainly not together.
Despite this being a time when the country needs a strong, united leadership to meet all the challenges it is facing, this government is proving to be one of the worst in Israel’s history.
The welcome achievement of the normalization treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, reached with the help of the US administration earlier this month, could be stymied because of the fractured nature of the government.
Some of the problems were obvious from the outset, particularly the over-inflated size of the government as part of the agreement to sit together. Similarly, the need to have two figures to agree on all steps – the prime minister and alternate prime minister – was setting the government up for failure, especially given the huge levels of distrust between them.
Netanyahu and Gantz should be able to act as partners around the cabinet table for the sake of the country. Instead, they aren’t even able to sit together, and Netanyahu seems bent on blocking Gantz at every opportunity.
This results in a loss of public confidence hampering the implementation of decisions that are made. The obvious disunity also affects Israel’s standing in the world, and could have financial and diplomatic repercussions. It is especially important ahead of the US presidential elections in November to be able to present a united face, no matter which candidate is elected.
To have a functional government in a democracy is important at any time; to have a well-functioning government in a time of crisis like this is essential. Sadly, while the Israeli public realizes this, the government itself ignores the will of the people – and the very reason it was created. The Israeli public deserves better. We need a working national unity government, not a fractured government of national paralysis.