It’s the Trial, Stupid, Not the Economy or the Coronavirus

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the first day of his trial in the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the first day of his trial in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. Anything goes in order to save him from sitting in Ma'asiyahu PrisonCredit: יונתן זינדל / פלאש

The pundits are fretting over what Benjamin Netanyahu will do next. Will he really impose Israeli law on the Jordan Valley and the settlements? Some say yes: He is looking for a legacy, and there is nothing better than going down in the books as the person who annexed the land of our forefathers. Others say no – on the grounds that such a move is too dangerous politically and could break up the government, and that he is totally risk averse.

The former commentators counter that Prime Minister Netanyahu will annex because he wants to appease the settlers. The latter group responds that, on the contrary, radical settlers will foment a rebellion among the whole right wing if he dares to accept the Trump plan.

But they’re all wrong. All their arguments bring a wan smile to Netanyahu’s lips. He will decide on annexation based on one, sole consideration: the trial. He will make that decision based on the question of whether annexation will bring him closer to his supreme goal – closing the cases against him, or at least postponing the trial by many years.

Annexation isn’t the only thing here: Netanyahu makes all his other decisions based on the same consideration. This line of thought offers a very good explanation for the establishment of the unity government, his relations with Donald Trump, the budget, unemployment and the war on the coronavirus.

It is the reason he destroyed the police and downsized the state prosecutor’s office. It’s why he has ransacked the court system. It’s why the so-called French law is still on the agenda, why the bill to override High Court of Justice rulings is in the works, why a pardon is possible, why a plea bargain is not out of the question, why a shift to the presidency is an option. Anything goes in order to save Netanyahu from sitting in Ma'asiyahu Prison and smelling Lysol.

Establishing a government served this goal well. Now he is prime minister for another 18 months, so that he can continue his war on the legal system from the premier's chair, and that makes all the difference in the world. In this way he can also quietly plan to blow up the coalition and organize a narrow, right-wing cabinet that will give him the French law and the court override law. He also knows such moves will lead to an election, so he can continue attacking and belittling Benny Gantz as a potential rival.

This is also the reason he continues to scare us with a “worsening plague,” even though there is no plague and no outbreak. There are 21 Israelis on respirators now and only 100 people hospitalized. However, the moment he reminds us over and over about the high number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, he burns into our consciousness the absolute truth that only he is capable of saving us from a horrible death by the virus – just like he did when it came to Iran's atomic bomb. And, in order to live we have to put the Likud slip into the ballot box, and that’s a reasonable price.

The problem is that when it comes to the economy, a critical issue like nothing else, Netanyahu’s decisions are made strictly on the basis of the trial. This fact will make it very hard on Yisrael Katz, in his fight to control the budget deficit and carry out reforms.

These two political veteran political players act like a new couple that just moved in together. They are trying to get used to each other and are testing the limits of their partner’s patience. Let’s not forget they didn’t really like each other before the wedding. Netanyahu made Katz finance minister not so that he will succeed or because he admires him, but because Katz could do serious damage to him in their party.

Netanyahu may want the economy to flourish and unemployment to decline because it will help him in the next election, but on the other hand he wants to get the credit for all the achievements. He doesn’t want Katz, who aspires to replace him one day, to become stronger, heaven forbid. So, we can expect bitter battles over who takes credit, between them.

Katz knows the only way to succeed in his job is to implement a host of harsh reforms, which will jump-start the economy and help build his image of being a bulldozer, which he loves so much. For example, by fundamentally shaking up the realms of wages and labor relations in the public sector, lowering customs on food to reduce the cost of living, dealing with the pension system and core curricula for Haredim, and raising the retirement age for women. Katz will need Netanyahu’s support to make all these things happen. However, the prime minister will consider only one thing: whether or not they will benefit his trial.

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