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The New Government of Israel, God Help Us

After more than a year of a temporary Netanyahu administration and three inconclusive general elections – and in the shadow of the corona pandemic – a new and allegedly stable government is to be sworn in tonight. It may bring a measure of relief to some of us, but it will bring joy to very few other than the prime minister and his coterie. Critics have many cogent arguments against the arrangement; I am among those who still hope that they are at least partly wrong. Even without the social and economic mayhem caused by the pandemic, Israel needed stability. It needs it much more so now. It is inconceivable that it could endure yet another general election in the foreseeable future.

From what we already seem to know, the composition of the government as well as the official opposition have obliterated the traditional distinction between Right and Left. Thus, apart from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, and what is left of the left-of-center Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz, the government side also has the leader of what once was Israel’s Labor party and his sidekick, plus several mavericks whom critics may describe as opportunists.

The opposition is no less varied. Apart from the Arab Joint List, what is left of Blue and White and the few members of the leftist Meretz, the opposition also includes members of the ultra-right-wing party Yemina as well as Avigdor Liberman’s “Russian” Yisrael Beyteunu. Ironically, had Liberman got in with Netanyahu after any of the previous three elections, he would today be an important player on the political scene. As it now stands, he seems to have rendered himself almost irrelevant.

The distribution of portfolios is no less confusing. For example, while the health ministry needs strong leadership, especially now when its director-general has resigned, it is getting Yuli Edelstein, the former long-term Speaker of the Knesset who offended the Supreme Court as a result of which Gantz blackballed him from continuing in his old job. As far as we know, Edelstein has no experience and no special skills to lead the Ministry of Health.

Another equally strange appointment as that of Gilad Erdan as Israel’s ambassador both to the United States and to the United Nations, a double post not held by one person since Abba Eban. All we know about Arden is that he seems to have none of the skills that made Eban great and none of the charm needed in the job. And this at a time when Israeli diplomacy needs to prepare for a different US administration by the beginning of next year, for the pandemic may have finally convinced the American people that Donald Trump does not have what it takes to lead their country.

Will the new foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, be able to guide Erdan and calm diplomats around the world that Israel is not likely to annex the West Bank as yet, despite Netanyahu’s attempt at bravado by announcing it and Gantz’s perplexing acquiescence?

I have already written in dismay about the large government that will now take over. As hard as I try to believe that those who enter it also will serve the country and not only their self-interest, what we hear about what went on in the negotiations makes that belief very naïve. Yet, to repeat, as unsatisfactory as the present arrangement may seem, the alternative would be even more grim.

No doubt, I will have reason to comment on it on future occasions. In the meantime, please read this as a trailer of even more complicated things to come.

Jerusalem 14.5.20                                                                                                                                  Dow Marmur

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