Netanyahu-Gantz Coalition Deal Will Neutralize Israel's Legislature

The unity agreement requires so many changes to constitutional law that experts believe it's unfeasible, and may even be a ploy

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israel's Knesset ahead of its inauguration on March 16, 2020.
Israel's Knesset ahead of its inauguration on March 16, 2020.Credit: Adina Wollman/Knesset Spokesperson's Office
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The coalition agreement signed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Member of Knesset Benny Gantz will require a significant change to Basic Laws and will significantly weaken the status of the Knesset as the legislative authority overseeing the actions of the government, according to a legal expert who saw plans for the requisite. He added that implementing the deal will also compromise the functioning of the coalition.

The agreement includes a number of changes in the Basic Law on the Government, but analysts believe it will also require changes to the Basic Law on the Knesset. A legal figure who saw Likud and Kahol Lavan’s plans for legislation said there is no way that the changes would be applied before the deadline for a formation of a new coalition, which if not met would mean the dissolution of the Knesset. Therefore, the source said, this might be a ploy.

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Corona keeps Bibi in power and unmasks the MossadCredit: Haaretz

“The chances of completing legislation in time are nil,” the figure said. “Netanyahu’s goal might be to play for time, to keep the Knesset busy with complex legislation instead of moving ahead on legislation against him, and will lead in the end to a blowup and the dissolution of the Knesset.” When discussion begins on various aspects of the laws to be changed, “the MKs will discover quite a few bugs, holes and questions,” the individual said.

The agreement neutralizes the powers of the Knesset. According to one clause, in the government’s first six months in office, the Knesset will not be allowed to make any law that does not involve the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, Likud and Kahol Lavan will have the right to veto legislation throughout the term. That is, either party can stop legislation by the Knesset for three years on issues that are inconvenient for it and decide on this even before the law comes before the Knesset for debate.

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.

Moreover, the institution of the no-confidence vote will be emptied of meaning because the heads of both parties – Netanyahu and Gantz – will be prohibited by law to head a government that is established after such a vote, and the chance that a majority will vote for the government to fall is unlikely. The Knesset would also lose the ability to make changes in the state budget because Kahol Lavan and Likud would be obliged by law not to take part in actions that would impede the passing of the budget by the Knesset. The agreement calls for harsh sanctions on the side that causes the failure of the budget to pass, even if the members of that party did not actually vote against it. The sanction would be the transfer of the premiership from one to the other.

Meanwhile, Yamina, the far-right alliance headed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, intends not to join the unity government. Since any legislation would require Kahol Lavan’s approval, according to the agreement, the leaders of Yamina feel that if they enter the government they will not be able to advance their own policies and that they instead should act from the opposition.

Netanyahu listens to Bennett at a meeting of his right-wing bloc at the Knesset, March 4, 2020
Netanyahu listens to Bennett at a meeting of his right-wing bloc at the Knesset, March 4, 2020Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

The new cabinet outlined in the unity government deal signed Monday by Netanyahu and Gantz is ultimately expected have up to 36 cabinet ministers and up to 16 deputy ministers, making it the largest in the country’s history. 

That arrangement poses a special challenge for Kahol Lavan, which only has 15 Knesset members, most of whom will become cabinet ministers and leaving almost none of the remaining members to be appointed to Knesset committees. 

The coalition agreement signed Monday provides for the heads of 32 ministries to be divided equally between Netanyahu’s Likud party, on the one hand, and Kahol Lavan and its Labor Party ally on the other. It also states that Likud and Kahol Lavan are entitled to share their cabinet slots with any other parties that they bring into the coalition government. 

Kahol Lavan announced on Monday that it would be naming an Arab Israeli who is not from within the ranks of its Knesset faction to one of the cabinet posts and does not at this stage expect to appoint any deputy ministers. 

Likud is to be given the Knesset speaker’s position for the entirety of the government and Yariv Levin is expected to take up that position. Netanyahu also reserved the right to appoint four ambassadors to top diplomatic posts, apparently as a way of providing high-profile positions to senior Likud politicians who might otherwise have found themselves at the cabinet table. The expected new ambassadorial appointments are to the United Nations, Britain, France and Australia. 

Benny Gantz and Amir Peretz gesture as Gantz takes over as Knesset speaker, March 26, 2020.
Benny Gantz and Amir Peretz gesture as Gantz takes over as Knesset speaker, March 26, 2020.Credit: Adina Wollman/Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Each of the two party blocs will have the chairmanship of seven Knesset committees. The parties will also be seeking to greatly expand the so-called Norwegian law, which allows cabinet members to resign their Knesset seats, thereby freeing up the seats for other members of their parties. It would permit the resignation from parliament of five Kahol Lavan Knesset members and two from Likud. 

There is a complication, however, when it comes to Kahol Lavan, whose Knesset delegation splintered when Gantz agreed to join a government headed by Netanyahu. It is unclear whether the amendment necessary to meet Kahol Lavan’s political needs would pass. 

Based on coalition negotiations, the ministerial portfolios are likely to be divided thus:  Benny Gantz will serve as defense minister, and is set to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in 18 months.

The other appointments are likely to be foreign minister: Gabi Ashkenazi (Kahol Lavan); justice minister: Avi Nissenkorn (Kahol Lavan); finance minister: Yisrael Katz (Likud); economy minister: Amir Peretz (Labor); social services minister: Itzik Shmuli (Labor); public security minister: Miri Regev (Likud); health minister: Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism); interior minister: Arye Dery (Shas); immigrant absorption minister: Pnina Tamano-Shata (Kahol Lavan); Knesset speaker: Yariv Levin (Likud).

The culture portfolio will go to Kahol Lavan, and MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich are the main contenders. The communications portfolio will go either to Kahol Lavan’s Orit Farkash-Hacohen or Yoaz Hendel, who broke off from Kahol Lavan to form the Derech Eretz party. The education portfolio will likely be given to an MK from the far-right Yamina party. A Likud MK will serve as transportation minister, but it is still unclear to whom the portfolio will go.

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