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The Coronation of Binyamin Netanyahu

The hope to which I alluded in yesterday’s reflections may not have been misplaced. As of last night, Israel has a government and Israelis will be spared yet another general election, likely to have been as inconclusive as the previous three. The corona pandemic seems to have added to the sense of urgency to create at least a semblance of a unity government.

The size of it – 32 ministers now, plus another four to come, and 16 deputy ministers. i.e., most of the bench on the government side – suggests that massaging the egos and feeding the ambitions of politicians may have been part of the price for their support of the agreement, probably at least as much as their stated commitment to the welfare of the State of Israel.

This is more of a coronation of Binyamin Netanyahu than a division of power between parties. He seems to have got his way on all major points, some explicitly others by inference. Thus, for example, the annexation of parts of the West Bank is due to start in July, long before the US elections that may unseat Donald Trump. Israel’s unilateral action may turn out not bother too much many governments around the world, because they’ll be too preoccupied with the effect of the pandemic in their own countries to worry about what happens to the Palestinians.

It’s also worth mentioning that Netanyahu’s standing in this country seems to have been greatly enhanced by the corona crisis. Though he’s said to have at times overstated Israel’s success in dealing with it, by all accounts he – and thus the country – has done well. The opinion polls reflect it, which may be another reason why Gantz agreed to join him.

Though the minister of justice is to be a member of Benny Gantz’s party, we’re told that his powers are being restricted to make sure that the judiciary won’t be able to get to Netanyahu, even if he’s convicted.

Though Netanyahu is supposed to turn  over the leadership of the country to Gantz in 18 months’ time, everybody knows that a year-and-a-half is a very long time in politics and all kinds of unexpected things may happen by then, likely to Netanyahu’s advantage.

Nothing of this is necessarily the result of Gantz’s ineptitude, as some observers suggest. In part, Gantz’s politics may not be very different from Netanyahu’s, especially on the issue of annexation, but largely he may have caved in for the good of the country believing that a stable government is better than a temporary one, which Israel has now had for more than a year, and that an awkward coalition is better than having new elections.

The fact that the deal was signed just as Israel was about to mark Holocaust Memorial Day may also have been a factor in Gantz’s decision. A weak Israel is the nightmare of every Jew today. We’re especially conscious of it on a day like today. Though the coalition agreement may have tampered with democracy, it may turn out to be good for security. Significantly, in addition to being deputy prime minister, Gantz, a former chief of staff, will also be the minister of defense.

In sum, though there’s much still to be worried about when it comes to Israeli politics, there’s enough to give us hope, even for pessimists like me.

Jerusalem 21.4.20                                                                                                                            Dow Marmur

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