Israel’s new unity government is finally scheduled to be sworn in today after three elections and over a year of waiting. But how long will the new government last? Here are the five main issues threatening to bring the new coalition down and set up yet another election.
Netanyahu – The trial to determine whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is guilty of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust is scheduled to begin on May 24. If Netanyahu is convicted, his main coalition partner Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party will find it difficult to continue backing Bibi as prime minister. While the law allows a prime minister to maintain his post under conviction, Gantz will have to decide if he is willing to continue cooperating with Netanyahu if convicted of a crime.
More Netanyahu – Last week the High Court of Justice determined that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may continue to serve as prime minister notwithstanding the criminal charges against him. However, in the new coalition agreement, Netanyahu will become the alternate prime minister when Blue and White’s Benny Gantz assumes the post 18 months from now. The court had already determined that cabinet members cannot serve while under indictment, however does that extend to Netanyahu serving as deputy or “alternate” prime minister to Gantz?
The agreement that was signed between Likud and Blue and White allows Netanyahu to initiate and run for a fourth election if and when the court decides that an alternate prime minister under indictment cannot serve. According to the deal, if either Gantz or Netanyahu are prevented from serving as an alternative prime minister, either one can dissolve the Knesset within 30 days of the decision.
Netanyahu and Annexation – Netanyahu is proposing a unilateral annexation of lands in the Jordan Valley. Gantz’s Blue and White party have opposed unilateral moves to annex these areas, but the new government’s coalition agreement allows Netanyahu to circumvent Blue and White and bring a vote on annexation to the Knesset for approval. It is assumed that a majority of Knesset members would support the move thus again making it political suicide for Ganz’s party to stay in the government. Again, if Gantz leaves, the government dissolves.
Netanyahu and Trump – The unity government deal requires Netanyahu to approve US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan while “striving to safeguard Israel’s security and strategic interests, including the maintaining of regional stability, the upholding of peace agreements with its neighbors and the striving for future peace agreements.” The language here is intentionally vague, and could be used to oppose implementation of Netanyahu’s unilateral annexation. Gantz could insist that annexation violates the peace accords with Egypt and Jordan in order to stop the move, which would most likely break up the government.
Money – After the swearing-in ceremony today, the new government will have 90 days to approve the state budget. This budget will have to deal with the enormous fallout resulting from the coronavirus crisis. Coming to an agreement on the budget has always been a major hurdle for any government and has led to the dissolution of more that one Israeli government. Determining the budget this time around will be a major challenge for the newly formed and untested government coalition.
Gantz and Netanyahu have agreed not to promote controversial bills such as same-sex marriage, the role of the courts and other social issues that remain unresolvable in Israel today. They chose instead to preserve the situation as is, along with some Orthodox Jewish and some secular regulations that are referred to in Israel as the “status quo,” the unique Israeli way to get along with each other in the modern Jewish democratic state. See the “Gospel of the Status Quo” for more on this fascinating ascpet of life, politics and religion in Israel today.