Gantz-Netanyahu Gov't May Be Stable, but Will Struggle to Keep Election Promises

Gantz has to neglect law barring an indicted lawmaker from assembling a coalition, but his veto privileges as deputy PM will probably hold back a wave of right-wing legislation

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Gantz and Netanyahu at the Knesset with Interior Minister Arye Dery and Hosen L'Yisrael lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi, January 24, 2020
Gantz and Netanyahu at the Knesset with Interior Minister Arye Dery and Hosen L'Yisrael lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi, January 24, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The coalition now brewing between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz may lead to a stable government, but it will have a hard time realizing the election promises its leaders doled out over the past year. It won’t be able to unilaterally annex the West Bank or narrow the power of the justice system, but neither will it be able to prevent a criminal defendant from forming a government or pursue a secular agenda.

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The government is expected in the near future to focus on managing the coronavirus crisis and restarting the economy when it’s over. Thus, Netanyahu and Gantz's first mission will be passing the state budget for the first time since March 2018. Such a budget will probably include draconian decrees and dramatic cutbacks, but it is likely to enjoy broad support given the state of emergency.

For Gantz, the main compromise is his agreement to sit in Netanyahu’s government while the prime minister is still charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, contrary to his promise. Gantz declared in his maiden speech as Knesset speaker, “We shall not compromise on principles for which over a million citizens voted,” but he didn’t go into detail.

The achievement he is expected to take pride in over the coming days is allegedly protecting the justice system immune from further damage, which was one of the flagship projects of the Netanyahu administrations in recent years. The expected appointment of Chili Tropper or Avi Nissenkorn as justice minister and the distancing of Amir Ohana and Ayelet Shaked from the ministry are meant to give a tailwind to the judicial authority.

It is also important for Gantz to control the Culture Ministry in wake of initiatives like Miri Regev’s cultural loyalty bill. However, Regev is expected to be public security ministry and thus in charge of another arm of law enforcement at a time when the police will likely be asked to conduct further investigations of Netanyahu.

Another emerging accomplishment for Gantz is gaining control of the Communications Ministry, which is considered one of the closest to Netanyahu’s heart. When he put together the last government in 2015, he kept the portfolio for himself and appointed his close associate Shlomo Filber, who has since turned state’s witness, as ministry director general.

According to the indictment in Case 4000, which deals with the Bezeq-Walla scandal, Netanyahu abused his position as communications minister to benefit his friend Shaul Elovich. Netanyahu’s interference in the communications market is also at the center of Case 2000, the affair involving Arnon Mozes. After he was forced to leave the ministry, Netanyahu loyalists served as communications ministers. Netanyahu and his allies threatened to close down the public broadcasting corporation.

One person expecting to stay in his position is Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Kahol Lavan’s election campaign focused on the crisis in the health system, which is now at the center of public attention because of the coronavirus crisis. Gantz called the Netanyahu government’s handling of the health system “Case 5000” and promised that Kahol Lavan would take the lead in rehabilitating the system. However, it will be hard pressed to fulfill that promise with Litzman remaining at the ministry.

Under the cover of the automatic majority the Netanyahu coalition had in the 20th Knesset, its members advanced bills like the associations bill, whose purpose was to undercut leftist organizations, the museum bill or the High Court override bill, as well as legislation for creeping annexation of the settlements and retroactively legalizing illegal ones. The outgoing government’s flagship bill was the nation-state law, which was perceived to cement Israeli Arabs status as second class. The next government probably will be asked to take a more modest line, as the emerging coalition agreement provides Kahol Lavan with a veto over advancing bills in the ministerial committee for legislation. Still, even if Gantz can put the brakes on practical steps, he will struggle to prevent increasingly radical statements around the cabinet table at which he will be seated.

According to the emerging agreement, almost all Hosen L’Yisrael members will be appointed ministers, which will leave Gantz with very few rank-and-file MKs to represent his position on the committees and in the Knesset plenary. Thus, Gantz intends to demand advancing an expanded so-called Norwegian law, which will allow his ministers to resign and make place for other party members in Knesset.

Gantz’s former partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, are now likely to try and undermine him by raising for a vote the bills he previously pledged to support, like the one banning a criminal defendant from forming a government. In such a case, it stands to reason that coalition discipline will force the 15 Hosen L’Yisrael MKs to vote against these laws.

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