Government in Paralysis: All the Ways New Election Stalls Israel's Progress

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Likud ministers meet to discuss the dissolution of the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 30, 2019.
Likud ministers meet to discuss the dissolution of the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 30, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

The decision to hold a new election in September ended the 21st Knesset and extended by several months the life of the interim government that began operating in December and is expected to be the longest in Israel’s history.

In the absence of a permanent government, much of the ministries’ work has stalled and the staffing of key appointments, including the police commissioner and state prosecutor, has been delayed or might be.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 29

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Haaretz correspondents show how the dissolution of the Knesset last week will affect the work of major state institutions — and the lives of Israelis.

IDF: New chief of staff is stuck

The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, was sworn in on January 15, less than three months before the April 9 election. He’s still waiting to see who will lead the country, who will be the defense minister and how much money he’ll have to carry out his ambitious procurement, training and organizational plans.

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at a military ceremony, May 6, 2019. Credit: Dudu Bachar

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This includes the establishment of a new division to address future threats in the Gaza Strip, the beefing up of the air force to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from entrenching themselves in Syria, and the purchase of advanced optic, anti-missile and communication systems. All this is being back-burnered until a new government is sworn in.

Then there are the expensive long-term projects including the wall being built along the Gaza border, the fence on the Lebanese border, the construction of a technology and intelligence center in the Negev, the relocation of the military colleges to Jerusalem and of the rehabilitation and maintenance centers to the Galilee. (Yaniv Kubovich)

Judicial system: Partial paralysis

Already under attack, the justice system also suffers from partial paralysis. The Judicial Appointments Committee hasn’t met for around six months, and it will be another six months before it meets again. As judges retire, they can’t be replaced, creating a shortage that’s only becoming more acute.

Israel's Supreme Court justices meet, March, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

A new state prosecutor is supposed to take office on December 15, but a search committee hasn’t been created and the Justice Ministry’s legal aid division has been without a director for a year. The search committee still hasn’t found a suitable candidate.

The High Court of Justice hasn’t yet made rulings on a number of sensitive issues including the law to encourage culture in the settlements and the constitutionality of the law legalizing settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land. The justices prefer to wait until after the election, out of fear that whatever ruling they make would benefit one side and the justices could face accusations of interfering in the election results.

Last week a hearing concerning conversations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson was canceled. (Revital Hovel)

Health: Stasis continues

Every year the committee that determines the state-subsidized basket of drugs and health services meets in October, but this year the sum by which the basket will rise hasn’t yet been determined and the panel’s establishment will have to wait until there’s a new health minister.

FILE Photo: The Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel, June 2016. Credit: Nir Kafri

That’s just one example of the way the elections have affected Israel’s public health system. As with other ministries and agencies, the Health Ministry’s budgets are in doubt, and as a result so is the continuity of long-term projects.

Among the urgent issues affected by the elections are the chronic shortage of hospital beds, the long waiting times for nonurgent operations and the staffing shortages at the country’s psychiatric hospitals. Also being held up are the construction of a new hospital in Be’er Sheva, the completion of the marijuana reform, state support for the public hospitals not owned by the state and preparations for negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with physicians. (Ido Efrati)

Social issues: Short shrift

Some people will pay with their lives for the delays in forming a new government. Implementation of the agreement between the state and the Histadrut labor federation to improve worker safety at construction sites will be further delayed. As a result, it will be months before developers are held accountable for accidents, before safety nets are made mandatory and a hotline for complaints is set up.

Action to combat domestic violence and violence against women will also be delayed. Increased allocations that were promised for these areas have been held up, as has been a 295-million-shekel ($81 million) plan to combat violence against Arab women.

In the absence of appropriate treatment programs, at-risk teens will continue to be sent to adult prisons or to live in homes that pose a danger to them. The Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry hasn’t come through on its promise to nationalize the institutions that deal with at-risk youth, who have been put in the hands of for-profit groups. (Lee Yaron)

Education: The fate of after-school programs

The most urgent issue for the school year that starts on September 1 is the budget for after-school programs, which extend the school day to 4 P.M. The previous cabinet approved funds to subsidize the programs through the end of the current school year: 900 million shekels allocated to local governments on a sliding scale. Another 300 million shekels is needed to continue this subsidy for the three months remaining to the end of the 2019 budget year.

If the money isn’t allotted, parents will be forced to pay the full cost of the program, between 650 and 900 shekels a month, though as little as 50 shekels in the poorest communities.

Also in limbo is 2 billion shekels promised to the Education Ministry to pay for items not included in the regular budget, such as programs for at-risk youth and the purchase of laboratory equipment.

The ministry is also waiting for funding approval for the construction of some 1,300 classrooms scheduled to be built in the coming months. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

Environmental protection: delays

A few major pollution abatement and waste treatment projects of the Environmental Protection Ministry will be delayed because of the dissolution of the Knesset. Among the most high-profile is the one creating a mechanism to collect construction waste through local governments. An amendment to the relevant law was approved in the first of three votes in the Knesset, but the process will have to start from the beginning in the next Knesset, and its passage faces hurdles in the form of opposition from local governments or contractors.

FILE Photo: Plastic accumulated at the Tel Aviv port, December 2018. Credit: Ofer Aderet

A program to deal with plastic waste was scheduled for publication within a few months, with the support of the outgoing cabinet, but its future is now in doubt. Also facing delay is approval of a national plan to reduce air pollution, whose provisions include incentives for using less-polluting vehicles. (Zafrir Rinat)