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It might be a case, as the English say, of turkeys voting for Christmas, but Benny
and his Blue and White Party have no choice. On Wednesday they must join forces with Yair Lapid and support Yesh Atid’s no-confidence motion in the government and bring this misaligned and malfunctioning unity coalition to an end.
The government has been in power for all of seven months and already it’s time to put it out of its misery. Israel’s citizens have been badly served throughout this period, and there is no indication of any progress in sight. Formed against the backdrop of COVID-19, this government has spectacularly failed to provide any coherent or consistent policy to combat the pandemic, sewing instead confusion, panic and indecision.
Rather than form a united front and work as a team, this
is riven with distrust and self-interest, as highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior. From pandering to the haredi community throughout the pandemic so as to ensure its continued support to deliberately failing to pass a state budget for 2021, Netanyahu has worked determinedly to ensure this government serves only one thing: his own narrow political needs.
Having already called Blue and White’s bluff once over the budget – Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi’s threat to bring down the coalition if budget preparations did not start by the end of October – Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz are preparing to do the same again. While Gantz publicly stated earlier this month he will call for early elections if the budget is not passed by the end of December, Katz announced at the end of the week that he and Netanyahu are planning on passing the budget in February.
Netanyahu’s calculation here is simple and has nothing to do with Israel’s economic well-being and everything to do with his own political interests. If the prime minister again succeeds in stringing Gantz along, come March Netanyahu will be in a better position to engineer a political crisis, bring down his own government and hold elections in June. Let’s not forget: Netanyahu’s political calendar is focused on November 2021, and ensuring his rotation agreement with Gantz, scheduled to take place then, never happens.
By June next year, the majority of Israelis, so the assumption goes, will already be vaccinated against COVID-19, the economy will start to revive, unemployment will fall, and all the nation’s children will be back safely behind their desks at school. With such a feel-good atmosphere after the trauma of the pandemic, the prime minister will run a campaign falsely based on the image of Netanyahu the great leader who brought the children of Israel out of the wilderness.
And if Gantz, suddenly and against character, decides to down tools and slam the door on the government in December, the country will go to the polls in March, a few months earlier. While not ideal for Netanyahu, given it’s unlikely that the vaccine will be widespread by then, the country will still be in a recession, and his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust will have started, the prime minister also knows there is no candidate on the Center-Left who can seriously threaten him. If anything, the more possible (although highly unlikely) threat to a future Netanyahu-led government comes from the Right in the form of Naftali Bennett.
And yet, even though it means Gantz stepping down from the Defense Ministry, Ashkenazi quitting the Foreign Ministry and Avi Nissenkorn leaving Justice, probably never to return, Blue and White have no option but to join Yesh Atid’s no-confidence motion. At the very least, it will allow them the dignity of stepping down at a time of their own choosing.
SUCH IS the lack of basic trust at the highest echelons of the government that just last week, the prime minister flew to Saudi Arabia – still officially an enemy country – without informing his defense or foreign minister. Like the rest of the country, they became aware of it only through a Netanyahu-sanctioned leak on social media.
Gantz, meanwhile, keenly aware of Netanyahu’s sensitivities around the issue, last week announced the establishment of a government committee to investigate the irregular purchase process of submarines and corvettes, also known as Case 3000. This affair centers on allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multibillion-dollar deal in 2016 with German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, involving a number of close associates of the prime minister.
With such an atmosphere of suspicion around the cabinet table, it’s no wonder the government is failing to function. Back in the 1980s, when Israel last had a national-unity government, its leaders, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, were far from friends, but there was mutual respect and, importantly, a sense that the country’s interests took precedence over everything else.
Today, this is not the case and it is time to end the farce.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.