The approaching unity government: a lesser evil

This is Netanyahu’s only option to form a government with a comfortable majority immediately, which is urgent because he cannot go on dealing with the health and economic crises without a budget.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz  (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
At the time of writing, the Likud and the Israel Resilience Party section of Blue and White have not yet signed an agreement on the establishment of a three-year emergency/unity government with rotation in the premiership, but one may assume that since neither side to the deal has a viable alternative, the extremely complicated agreement will be signed soon.
This is not the national-unity government I have been advocating for the past year, and I can understand why many of those who voted for the “just not Bibi” option feel angry and betrayed. And yet I believe that Benny Gantz had no alternative, and is doing the right thing, even though he has lost over half the Knesset seats that he commanded before he opted for joining a government under Benjamin Netanyahu, and is undoubtedly aware of Netanyahu’s record of breaking agreements without batting an eyelash.
The national-unity government I favored, which would include only the Likud and Blue and White and exclude Netanyahu until such time as he is exonerated of all the charges against him by a court of law, is not an option, because, at the moment, no one in the Likud is willing to give up its solid 58 right-religious bloc or depose Netanyahu.
A minority government headed by Blue and White, supported by the Joint List from the outside, was never an option, because at no moment in time was it supported by at least 61 MKs.
A fourth round of elections - which is the only possible outcome of a failure to form a viable government, with a properly functioning Knesset at its side - is also not an option in the current situation, primarily for physical, economic and tactical reasons. Besides, no one really wants fourth elections.
At first sight, the fact that both the Likud and the Israel Resilience Party have agreed on the basic terms of the agreement seems very strange.
Why on earth is Netanyahu willing to agree to parity in the number of ministers between the two sides, when he brings with him the support of 59 MKs, and will have to find creative solutions for at least five currently serving Likud ministers who will be forced to leave the government, while Gantz brings with him 15 seats only, though another two or three members from other sections of the former Blue and White might choose to join him, as well as two of the three Labor Party MKs?
But the reason is clear. This is Netanyahu’s only option to form a government with a comfortable majority immediately, which is urgent because he cannot go on dealing with the health and economic crises without a budget, and without other supporting economic legislation.
But why did Gantz and Ashkenazi decide to act in such haste?
Their original plan was that first Blue and White would cash in on its “just not Bibi” majority of 61  MKs, by taking control of the Knesset by means of the election of MK Meir Cohen as Knesset speaker, establishing the Knesset committees in each of which the center-left-Arab bloc would constitute a majority, and start the legislative process of several laws designed to prevent an MK under indictment from forming a government, and stop some of the antidemocratic moves initiated by provisional Justice Minister Amir Ohana and others. After achieving all of this, the bargaining power of Blue and White vis-à-vis the Likud would grow.
What stopped the two former chiefs of staff from trying to realize this scenario was the fact that Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, made it absolutely clear to them that under no circumstances would he agree to join a government with Netanyahu. Since Blue and White’s candidate for Knesset speaker, MK Meir Cohen - a most worthy candidate for the job - is a member of Yesh Atid, they decided at the last moment to prevent his election last Thursday, and instead Gantz himself stood for election, and was elected by a 74-MK majority - the right-religious bloc plus another 15 from Israel Resilience, and Orly Levy-Abecassis. This led to the Yesh Atid and Telem components of Blue and White breaking up their union with the Israel Resilience Party.
One can accuse Gantz of breaking up Blue and White - the only option for replacing Netanyahu in the foreseeable future - for the sake of some ministries and other perks of government.
The other way of looking at the situation is to note that since there is really no option to replace Netanyahu at this juncture (neither in elections nor by legal means), the only way for Blue and White (or part of it) to remain politically relevant - play an active role in the fight against the coronavirus and a total collapse of the economy in the process of trying to contain the virus, and do the utmost to halt the dangerous antidemocratic and licentious course on which three successive Netanyahu-led transition governments have taken Israel - is to join Netanyahu, despite all its election promises not to join him under any circumstances.
As mentioned above, the greatest risk Gantz is taking is that Netanyahu will manage to wriggle out of the rotation agreement, which constitutes a central pillar in the agreement, and is to be anchored by means of legislation that will prevent any monkey business by Netanyahu when the time for rotation will arrive in October 2021, as well as legislation that will enable a deputy prime minister under indictment to remain in his position in the government, as long as he has not been found guilty by a final judicial instance - the same provision that applies to the prime minister himself.
At the time of writing, the list of ministries that Israel Resilience will receive has not been finalized, but it includes several important ones in the current situation, including those of Defense, Justice, Economy and Industry and Communications. It is not certain how much influence command of these ministries would give Israel Resilience to implement policies that run contrary to the Likud’s liking, but they would certainly give it the ability to restrain or freeze objectionable policies implemented by Israel’s 34th Government and the three transition governments that followed it.
Unfortunately, Gantz did not manage to get the Health Ministry, or get Netanyahu to insist on keeping the ministry for the Likud, but I am confident that the Likud and Israel Resilience can agree about the necessary policies required to win the battle against the coronavirus, and to get the economy out of the crisis it has entered as a result of this battle.
He did manage to ensure that Yuli Edelstein, who refused to obey a High Court of Justice ruling last week, will not return to the speakership of the Knesset. Yariv Levin, who is to assume the position, is an exemplary parliamentarian, but might prove even more problematic than Edelstein in Netanyahu’s service.
However, most important of all is the fact that the members of the right-religious bloc will relearn that the Center-Left is a legitimate partner, with legitimate principles and aspirations.