The unity government which is in the process of shaping up is neither the one I was dreaming of, nor the one I believe Israel is in urgent need of.
Some of its provisions are monstrous, such as the projected number of ministers and deputy ministers (a maximum of 52); conditioning the formation of the government on the amendment of certain basic provisions in Basic Law: the Government, and Basic Law: the Knesset - i.e., the changing of some basic constitutional provisions; the provision of an “alternate prime minister,” which in certain senses means that Netanyahu and Gantz will simultaneously hold various rights usually reserved for the prime minister alone, even when the other is the acting prime minister.
All these provisions are the result of the total, basic distrust between Netanyahu and Gantz; their attempt to prevent each other from trying to realize agendas that the other is absolutely opposed to; Netanyahu’s determination to keep his political bloc intact at any cost; his determination to stop the indictments against him from leading the High Court of Justice to bar him from serving as prime minister, and to ward off his approaching trial.
It is said that at least part of the articles in the agreement might be canceled by the High Court.
The unity government I dreamed of was a government based on the Likud (preferably in a post-Netanyahu form) and Blue and White (before it fell apart), possibly with a few additional partners, which would be formed to deal as efficiently as possible with some very basic problems that are riddling our society, such as the breakdown of social solidarity; the undermining of some of the basic pillars of democracy (both from liberal and conservative points of view); and (especially since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic) rehabilitating and strengthening the medical system, and finding a better balance between dealing with the pandemic and keeping the economy going, while redefining the balance between the capitalist economy and the welfare state, and between the private and public sectors.
But this dream is not realizable at the moment.
The two realistic options were the agreement attained by Netanyahu and Gantz exactly a week ago - with all its shortcomings and loopholes - or new elections, which are unlikely to significantly improve the chances of either side to form a stable and effective government without the other.
According to opinion polls the majority of Israelis - and even a majority of Blue and White voters - support the unity government, even though most of them are critical of the terms of this union, and both sides have plenty to complain about.
Especially in Netanyahu’s camp, once the government will actually be formed - and this must happen by May 6 - dissatisfaction is liable to grow, because there are not enough government jobs to go around, besides the fact that due to the expected financial cuts, coalition funds for Netanyahu’s partners (money which is distributed among the coalition partners for their pet projects) are liable to be cut to well below what they were accustomed to, or even disappear altogether.
However, most of the fire at the moment appears to be directed at the two leaders of Blue and White, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, who are accused by their opponents within the Center-Left - those who refused to join them in a unity government with Netanyahu - of selling out cheap, and even of treason.
Especially vicious was the attack by Guy Rolnik in last Friday’s TheMarker, in which he accused Gantz of bribery, fraud and breach of trust - the same charges brought against Netanyahu in his indictments.
The charge of bribery, Rolnik says, emanates from the fact that Gantz signed a quid pro quo agreement with Netanyahu in which in return for jobs, perks and power positions of vast economic value for himself and his henchmen, he provided Netanyahu with the components for “sewing for himself a protective vest to stop, or slow down, the process in which he will lose his position, status and living standards, and enter a legal process that might end with his commitment to a long prison sentence.”
The charge of fraud relates to the fact that throughout three election campaigns, Blue and White kept declaring that it would not sit under a prime minister with three indictments, nor give a hand to the destruction of Israeli democracy. By agreeing to join a government led by Netanyahu, under conditions that contribute to the continued erosion of democratic principles, Blue and White committed an act of fraud against its voters, Tolnik argues.
Regarding the charge of breach of trust, Rolnik enumerates the values of public trust in public servants, the integrity of public servants, and upholding the public interest, all of which were trampled upon - according to him - by Gantz and his colleagues.
THOUGH THERE is no doubt that Gantz, Ashkenazi and their colleagues reneged on many of the promises they made, I don’t believe that they can honestly be accused of malicious and criminal intent.
In fact, in their choice to enter the unity government under the conditions that they managed to attain, they believe that they will be able to fulfill most of their original goals and promises much more effectively than if they remained in opposition, or caused a fourth round of elections.
From a position of control of some very important ministries, including Defense, Justice, Communications, and several important Knesset committees, they believe that they will be able to prevent a further erosion of democracy, and to act more effectively to ensure that Netanyahu is finally brought to justice.
Whether they will actually manage to achieve all of this depends on how wisely and judiciously they will act once the government is actually formed. They know that Netanyahu will not be giving them an easy time, but they will not be giving him an easy time either.
It should be noted that Blue and White does not intend to man all eight deputy ministerial positions it is entitled to, and will be making some external professional ministerial appointments in ministries that will be under their control.
Furthermore, the fact that the agreement provides for the provision of a second official residence, in addition to that on Balfour Street, where the prime minister resides, for his alternate, is not the result of greediness by Gantz, who has declared that until such time as the rotation in the premiership will take place in October 2021, he will be perfectly happy to reside in his private home in Rosh Ha’ayin. The problem is getting Netanyahu out of Balfour, if and when the rotation will take place, which is what gave birth to the superfluous two residences solution.
I say “if” because despite all the legal provisions that Netanyahu agreed to, to ensure that the rotation will actually take place, it is not only Blue and White that does not feel confident that Netanyahu will go through with it. A majority of the Israeli public is also skeptical on this count.
All we can do is hope for the best.