Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered on Friday to begin the nomination process of a new state prosecutor, in a bid to save his crumbling Kahol Lavan party. Over the past two weeks, as the cabinet debated limiting protests as part of Israel’s coronavirus lockdown, just as a wave of anti-government demonstrations was growing across Israel, Gantz felt he was losing his party members.
Threats by Science, Technology and Space Minister Izhar Shay to resign and dissenting votes by Kahol Lavan lawmakers Ram Shefa and Miki Haimovich against amendments to emergency regulations allowing the government to restrict demonstrations were a public expression of the contempt his party felt over his conduct.
It was eventually Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir who decided to resign, even though he is not a Knesset member and did not vote on the new restrictions. Over the past weeks, Zamir could see in his city of Tel Aviv how the party is losing the last of its supporters with every day it remains in government.
Behind the scenes, members of Kahol Lavan believe Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is planning to resign from the government and take with him a third of the party, without Gantz, in an attempt to become the new face of the opposition. Although Ashkenazi vehemently denies these claims, Gantz understands he has to publicly and clearly speak out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Gantz faces a tough dilemma: On the one hand, he talks about how his party defends the Justice Ministry and the judiciary, as if he were talking about the last stronghold in the Yom Kippur War, but on the other hand, he understands that getting to an election cycle while still being member of this government would spell the end of his political career.
For now, Gantz has chosen to go with a diversionary tactic, in the form of announcing he plans to appoint a state prosecutor. Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Kahol Lavan is working on appointing a selection committee for the senior position, currently filled by a substitute – Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit – in the hopes it would provide a nominee within two to three weeks.
Kahol Lavan members believe the High Court of Justice would force the government to appoint whichever nominee the selection committee would recommend. This was done before – In 2012, Moshe Asher was appointed as head of Israel’s Tax Authority by the court’s order and despite then-Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s opposition.
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Only in recent days did Gantz realize that he cannot keep walking the path of compromise with Netanyahu. After six months, arguments within the cabinet over limiting protests have made it clear for him that the prime minister has no interest in reaching an agreement, and that he rather quarrel and bicker indefinitely. Therefore, Gantz is looking for a reason to fight Netanyahu over something he can use in a potential election campaign, like appointing a permanent state prosecutor.
Netanyahu, Gantz’s party believes, wouldn’t dare dissolve the government and go to election at this time. According to Kahol Lavan’s analysis, Netanyahu can’t afford an election campaign at this point due to right-wing lawmaker Naftali Bennett’s strong performance in the polls.
In the coming days, unnamed “Kahol Lavan sources” will surely be quoted in the media as saying in “secret talks” that they are absolutely fine with a scenario by which Bennett serves as prime minister under a rotation agreement, much like the power-sharing deal Netanyahu and Gantz agreed on. Gantz’s party, therefore, plans to initiate a new conflict in the cabinet in about six weeks over extending the restrictions on protests.
On the Likud front no decision has been made yet as to how to respond to Gantz’s announcement on a new state prosecutor, but Netanyahu’s party certainly plans to keep wearing Kahol Lavan out, hoping to encourage more ministers from Gantz’s party to quit – and potentially Kahol Lavan as a whole. Netanyahu’s goal was, and still is, to control the Justice Ministry and replacing Mendelblit, who was the one who decided to charge the prime minister with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases.