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Corona and Israeli Politics

By all accounts, Prime Minister Netanyahu may turn out to be one of the beneficiaries of the corona crisis. Benefit #1: As his sidekick the minister of justice has closed the courts, his trial, due to having started this week, has been postponed for a couple of months or more. Benefit #2: The call for a unity government to better respond to the crisis will mean that he may stay in office for a considerable time, even though his bloc doesn’t have the required minimum of 61 votes of the 120 Members of Knesset.

At the time of writing, Benny Gantz, the leader of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, is trying to cobble together a government, but its success is in doubt not only because it’ll have to rely on the 15 votes of the Joint Arab Party (the third in size in the Knesset), but also because some of his own people are less than happy about having to rely on the Arabs. Even though they won’t be part of the government, the Arabs are bound to have a lot of influence on its decisions.

One of Gantz’s potential coalition partners, Orly Levy- Abekasis, has already openly declared that she won’t support a government that depends on the Arab votes. A couple of other members of Gantz’s party have also expressed serious qualms. But even if he can form a government, it’s questionable if it can last, because of the desire by the Israeli public for all-party unity at this time of crisis.

A rumor about why Levy-Abekasis made the party she had formed, Gesher, to break up the alliance with Labour and Meretz has it that she was promised by Netanyahu that he would nominate her father David Levy (born 1937 in Morocco), a long-serving prominent politician in Israel, for president when the current incumbent retires next year. Perhaps.

On the other hand, it’s not impossible that the two Orthodox parties in the Knesset, currently in alliance with Netanyahu’s Likud, might join a Gantz government in order to secure continued subsidies to the many ultra-Orthodox institutions they represent. But if they do that, fierce opposition may come from Yair Lapid, #2 on Gantz’s list, and Avigdor Liberman, who has played kingmaker in the last three elections and is now part of the Gantz coalition (allegedly not out of love of Gantz but because of disdain for Netanyahu).

And then there’s the issue of rotation. A unity government would have the two leaders take turns as prime minister. It’s assumed that Netanyahu would go first – bur for how long? Gantz says one year, Netanyahu’s people say two years. Even if he’s in office only one year, we can regard this as his second victory thanks to the corona crisis. And who knows what will happen when his year is up? They say that a year is a long time in politics.

Though I’ve done my best to be lucid, readers may be forgiven for feeling confused and lost. Part of it may be my fault but part, I surmise, is due to the confusing political situation made dramatic by the corona crisis. Welcome to Israeli politics: pertinent, dynamic and – yes – confusing.

Jerusalem 17.3.20                                                                                                              Dow Marmur

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