Bill Intended to Secure Gantz's Position in Government Actually Bolsters Netanyahu

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at a press conference, Tel Aviv, March 7, 2020
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at a press conference, Tel Aviv, March 7, 2020Credit: Ilan Assayag
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The Knesset gave preliminary approval on Thursday to a bill aimed at boosting the chances of success for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz’s joint government.

The legislation, prepared by attorney Avi Licht, an advisor to Gantz, was intended to assure the Kahol Lavan head that Netanyahu couldn’t cheat him out of the 18 months he’s been promised as prime minister.

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But whether by chance or by error, the bill would also accomplish something that everyone prefers not to mention: It would assure that Netanyahu will not be removed from office during his term.

A close look at the bill shows a deep constitutional pit which Gantz has dragged the country into. It’s based on not trusting a word uttered by Netanyahu unless it is approved by a majority of 75 lawmakers. But the same guarantees made to Gantz would also hold for Netanyahu, and for the coming 18 months it will be a very powerful tool.

These are the bill’s mechanisms:

No confidence: Under the current law, any no confidence motion is effectively a motion of confidence in a new government: Such a motion has to name a new prime minister and the entire cabinet. Under this procedure, a new government could be ratified by a majority of 6 votes. This would have been an easy way for Netanyahu to take over for Gantz, but Gantz’s bill has blocked that option. Under this legislation, neither he nor Netanyahu could name themselves as an alternative prime minister as part of a no confidence motion.

Dissolving parliament: The Knesset may currently be dissolved by a 61-vote majority. Under the proposed amendment, if 12 members of the prime minister’s bloc support dissolving the parliament, then he must step down in favor of the vice prime minister taking his place. In other words, if Netanyahu is prime minister and 12 right-wing lawmakers vote to dissolve the parliament, Gantz would become prime minister. But the moment Gantz becomes prime minister, lawmakers could dissolve the Knesset anew and the country would have to hold a new election.

Legislative change: Amending the law would require a 75-member majority.

Parity is a basic principle of the new government: There’s an equal number of cabinet ministers and decision-makers, checks and balances between the House Committee and the Speaker of the Knesset. But this is an illusion. Netanyahu has a solid bloc of 53 lawmakers and another six to his right, versus 19 lawmakers from all the other parties in the coalition, including Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Jerusalem, April 24, 2020Credit: Haim Tzach / GPO

If Gantz intended to get closer to the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are deep inside the right-wing bloc and depend solely on Netanyahu, he did the opposite. As the coronavirus crisis wanes, an imbalance in coalition forces and bitterness in the right-wing bloc over what they gave up for an emergency cabinet will grow, along with the desire to amend the agreement and to try to provoke an incident that would embarrass Gantz.

Gantz’s starting point is that he can’t trust Netanyahu and he dare not rely on his signature alone. At the age of 71, it’s hard to change your political habits – certainly not those that are useful. Events that have taken place since the establishment of the new coalition show that Netanyahu intends to use the year and a half he has in power to create an escape hatch from his trial. Some signs of this are as follows:

Netanyahu is ready to give Orli Levi-Abekasis a cabinet portfolio so that she’ll join his camp. This is not a clear reason to give her a cabinet seat, particularly not at the expense of angering a Likud member. But Netanyahu is fighting for each and every vote in order to win over a total of 61 supporters, up from a current 59.

Orli Levi-Abekasis at a press conference, Tel Aviv, February 9, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

After adding Levi-Abekasis to his camp, he’s still missing two votes for a solid Knesset majority. He may try to procure them from Pnina Tamano-Shata of Kahol Lavan, who already abandoned one political patron, Yair Lapid; and from Hauser, another weak link in that camp. Hauser’s views are to the right of Ayelet Shaked’s, and his change of heart about Netanyahu is a personal issue, minus the ideological baggage characterizing former Likudnik Hendel’s case.

Likud supports the amendment demanded by Hauser and Hendel of Derech Eretz to grant the party immediate funding. Netanyahu has an interest in both of them being satisfied.

Amir Ohana, Netanyahu’s right-hand man, continues to fan the flames in the legal establishment despite having to leave his role as justice minister in about a week. At the start of the month, Haaretz reported that Ohana had asked to extend the term of the acting prosecutor, Dan Eldad, to continue to poke his finger in the eyes of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

The coalition agreement gives Gantz veto power over this, but it’s not a legal deal. It’s more like a love letter which no longer has any bearing after a couple has separated. He won’t have the recourse of taking it to court to make sure the agreement is enforced.

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